The Problematic Relationship Between Youth Anxiety and Later Alcohol Use

Researchers have continuously debated the link between anxiety and alcohol use. However, despite the previous examination of the direction and strength of the association, the form of the relationship remains unclear.

A recent systematic review, published in the Journal of Addiction, has sought to uncover some of the unanswered questions about child and adolescent anxiety and later alcohol use outcomes.

All the articles used in the review were English language publications, used human participants. They examined anxiety exposure (predictor variable) in childhood or adolescence and alcohol outcome at least 6 months later.

In the systematic narrative review, the researchers found that around one-third of the associations between anxiety and prospective alcohol use were positive. However, they also found that about one-fifth of associations were negative (i.e. anxiety was prospectively associated with lower alcohol consumption).

The relationship between anxiety and later drinking frequency/quantity and binge drinking remained unclear. However, there was some evidence that suggests a positive relationship between anxiety and Alcohol Use Disorder.

Despite the extensive and thorough evaluation of studies that have been carried out on this subject, the evidence from the systematic review was "far from conclusive". The authors suggest further research is required in order to strengthen our understanding of the subject in order to provide appropriate preventative support to vulnerable populations.

Dyer, M. L., Easey, K. E., Heron, J., Hickman, M., & Munafò, M. R. (2019). Associations of child and adolescent anxiety with later alcohol use and disorders: a systematic review and meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies (PDF). Addiction, 114(6), 968-982. doi: 10.1111/add.14575