Our aim was to enhance understanding of the trajectory of reasons for abstaining and limiting drinking (RALD) over the course of adolescence and how RALD levels or trajectories may differ based on lifetime experience with alcohol and/or gender.
Participants were 1023 middle school students (52% female) who completed online surveys at baseline and five follow-ups over a 3-year period, assessing lifetime sip and full drink of alcohol and RALD. Hierarchical linear models were used to estimate change over time in total RALD and RALD subscales (upbringing, performance/control). Between-person (gender and drinking status) correlates of average RALD and change in RALD over time were considered.
RALD total and subscale scores significantly decreased over time (ages 10.5–16.5). Drinking experience in both milestones (sip, full drink) was found to be a significant moderator of change in RALD over time; decline was fastest among adolescents reporting lifetime experience with drinking. Boys reported lower RALD, though the pace of change in RALD across time did not differ by gender.
This was the first study to report prospective changes in the cognitive domain of RALD among young adolescents. That change over time in RALD is moderated by drinking experience suggests an increased risk among those with earlier drinking experience. Findings highlight the importance of considering sipping, not just consumption of a full drink, as a pivotal developmental milestone. Prevention efforts that target RALD are implicated and parent-based intervention strategies may be beneficial.