Problems with drinking and stress in young adults linked to childhood loneliness, study says

A new study found that loneliness during childhood may correlate to stress and alcohol misuse during early adulthood.

The study, published in Addictive Behaviors Reports, was conducted by a team of researchers at Arizona State University (ASU). Amid high rates of reported childhood loneliness, the study sought to better understand the longer-term effects of childhood loneliness on the stress levels and drinking behaviors of young adults.

The investigation involved more than 300 college students who completed surveys that determined their experiences with childhood loneliness as well as current stress levels and drinking habits. The study’s results showed that higher levels of childhood loneliness were linked to heavier drinking and higher stress during early adulthood.

According to the study, prior to the pandemic, one in 10 children reported being lonely, a number that most likely has changed. The study’s researchers said that more studies must be done on post-pandemic loneliness and its effects.

“The data used in this study were collected before the pandemic, and the findings suggest that we could have another public health crisis on our hands in a few years as today’s children grow up,” said Julie Patock-Peckham, PhD, assistant research professor in the ASU Department of Psychology, in a statement.

The study’s authors suggested that interventions to combat loneliness during early childhood may prevent stress related dysregulated alcohol use later in life.

“We need more research into whether mitigating childhood loneliness could be a way to disrupt the pathways that lead to alcohol use disorders in adults,” said Patock-Peckham. “Combating childhood loneliness should help to reduce impaired control over drinking, especially among women.”