Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh found that compared to their peers who drink only in social settings, teens who drink alone have more alcohol problems, are heavier drinkers and are more likely to drink in response to negative emotions.
Furthermore, solitary teenage drinkers are more likely to develop alcohol use disorders in early adulthood.
"We're learning that kids who drink alone tend to do so because they're feeling lonely, are in a bad mood, or had an argument with a friend," lead author Kasey Creswell, assistant professor of psychology in CMU's Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences, said.
"They seem to be using alcohol to self-medicate as a way to cope with negative emotions and, importantly, this pattern of drinking places them at high risk to escalate their alcohol use and develop alcohol problems in adulthood," Creswell said.
This study is the first to determine whether solitary drinking during teenage years impacted the development of alcohol use disorders as young adults, after controlling for other known risk factors.
The study will be published in the journal Clinical Psychological Science.