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In a systematic review of current evidence published in PLoS

Medicine, the authors-Jim McCambridge from the London School of Hygiene
& Tropical Medicine, London, UK, and colleagues-conclude that there is
enough evidence to recommend that reducing drinking during late adolescence is
likely to be important for preventing long-term adverse consequences of
drinking, as well as protecting against more immediate harms.

Although there is an urgent need for better studies in this area, research to
date provides some evidence that high alcohol consumption in late adolescence
often continues into adulthood and is associated with long-term alcohol
problems, including dependence.

The authors of the current study
conducted a comprehensive literature review to identify 54 relevant studies
which included at least one quantitative measure of the effects of alcohol, on
outcomes in adulthood such as death, alcohol dependence, criminal offences, mental health, educational attainment, and
smoking. The majority of these studies were multiple reports from ten cohorts,
half of which were from the US.

The authors found that although there is
consistent evidence that higher alcohol consumption in late adolescence
continues into adulthood and is associated with alcohol and other problems, most
of these studies could not strongly support direct causality because of their
weak designs. Furthermore, although a number of studies suggested links with
late adolescent drinking to adult physical and mental health and social
consequences, this evidence is generally of poorer quality and insufficient to
infer causality.

According to the authors: “It is clear that the
evidence base on long-term consequences is not as extensive nor as compelling as
it could be.” Despite this limitation, they are able to say: “late adolescent
alcohol consumption appears a probable cause of increased drinking well into
adulthood, through to ages at which adult social roles have been achieved.”
However, they caution: “Heavier drinking seems most likely, however, to be only
one component in a complex causal process, whose contribution has probably been
overestimated in previous studies because of uncontrolled confounding, setting
aside the uncertainties induced by self-reported data.”

Funding: This
study was funded by the Alcohol Education & Research Council, study R
03/2005. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis,
decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.

Interests: The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.

Citation: McCambridge J, McAlaney J, Rowe R (2011) Adult Consequences of
Late Adolescent Alcohol Consumption: A Systematic Review of Cohort Studies. PLoS Med 8(2): e1000413.

PLoS Medicine

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