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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Tuesday, February 12, 2002

Substance abuse declines with age, study confirms

By Karen S. Peterson
USA Today

Is your social life sagging?

It seems that by the time Americans reach their early 30s, they no longer party hearty.

And that is a good thing, if you are a researcher in the field of substance abuse. Fewer parties mean less of it, a new study shows.

When they are 18, about 94 percent of men and 92 percent of women go out at least once a week for fun or recreation. By the time they are 31 or 32, 73 percent of men and 64 percent of women get out that often, says a new study from University of Michigan Institute for Social Research.

It's not a sign of the times, but rather an indication of assuming more adult responsibilities such as marriage and parenthood, says lead author Jerald Bachman, an institute social psychologist. Today's 18-year-olds go out about as much as 18-year-olds did in 1976, he says.

In general, he says, "Evenings out for fun and recreation, especially going to parties, hanging out with friends and going to bars, are activities that decline steadily and substantially with age."

Look more closely and it seems even more obvious that party animals have been tamed by their early 30s:

• At 18, 52 percent of men and 48 percent of women go out more than three times a week.

• At 23-24, 35 percent of men and 24 percent of women get out that often.

• But at 31-32, only 15 percent of men and 11 percent of women manage to get out of the house at least three nights a week.

That is just fine with Bachman. He is not all that interested in party animals who run out of steam as they age. He is more interested in the fact that young adults who go out frequently in the evening for fun and recreation are more likely than their peers on average to drink heavily and to use illegal drugs. And studying substance abuse is his special interest.

Bachman finds that the relationship between nights out and heavy drinking and marijuana use weakens a little with age. Still, at ages 29-32, those who go out at least three nights a week are twice as likely to report marijuana use or heavy drinking than those who go out less than once a week.

Bachman's study analyzes 25 years of data on more than 38,000 people from the institute's Monitoring the Future Study, conducted yearly since 1975. That government-supported, long-term research is used as a barometer of trends in various behaviors among American adolescents and young adults.

"Their social lives change as they take on these other responsibilities," Bachman says. "We find that is what accounts for a lot of the change."

The findings from Bachman's team appear in a new book, "The Decline of Substance Use in Young Adulthood: Changes in Social Activities, Roles and Beliefs" from Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.