Background: Young adulthood is characterized by transitions into and out of social roles in multiple domains. Consistent with self-medication models of alcohol use, the Transitions Overload Model (J Stud Alcohol Suppl, 14, 2002, 54) hypothesizes that one cause of increased alcohol use during young adulthood may be the stress of navigating simultaneous role transitions. This study examined the simultaneous occurrence of major developmental role transitions in the domains of education, employment, romantic relationships, and residential status and their associations with perceived stress, heavy episodic drinking (HED), and negative alcohol-related consequences. Further, we extended the Transitions Overload Model to explore whether the number of transitions rated as having a negative impact on one's life was related to perceived stress, HED, and alcohol-related consequences. Methods: A community sample of young adult drinkers (N = 767, 57% women, ages 18 to 25 years) in the Pacific Northwest provided monthly data across 2 years. Multilevel models were used to assess the average (between-person) and month-to-month (within-person) associations of role transitions with perceived stress, HED, and negative alcohol-related consequences. Results: Although having more role transitions was positively associated with HED frequency and alcohol-related consequences at both the between- and within-person (monthly) levels, it was not associated with increased stress. The number of transitions rated as having a negative impact on one's life, however, was positively associated with stress. Thus, rather than the total number of transitions, it is the number of negatively perceived major developmental role transitions that is associated with perceived stress and increased risk for negative alcohol-related consequences. Conclusions: Contrary to Transitions Overload Model assumptions, more transitions were not a significant predictor of more perceived stress; rather, the evaluation of the transition as negative was associated with stress and negative alcohol-related outcomes. This distinction may help elucidate the etiology of stress and subsequent alcohol consequences and identify individuals at-risk of these effects.
- alcohol use
- developmental role transitions
- young adult