Using Behavioural Economics to Predict Successful and Unsuccessful Maturing Out of Alcohol Misuse in Emerging Adults

Investigators:  MacKillop, James; Amlung, Michael; Bang, Debbie; Ferro, Mark; Goldman, Mark; Munn, Catharine; Murphy, James; Raymond, Holly; Vedelago, Harry

Funding:  Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), $1,215,555 over 5 years

Lay Abstract: Alcohol misuse remains a major public health problem in emerging adults (age 18-25) in Canada. Although many emerging adults ‘mature out’ of alcohol misuse over time, others exhibit persistently high levels of problem drinking and the process of maturing out is not well understood. Integrating psychology and economics, the field of behavioural economics (BE) is increasingly used to study alcohol misuse and is highly relevant to maturing out. In particular, two novel BE indices have been consistently associated with alcohol misuse in emerging adults in cross-sectional studies. These are alcohol demand and proportionate alcohol-related reinforcement, two different strategies for measuring how much a person values alcohol. These indices may predict maturing out of alcohol misuse over time, but no longitudinal studies have been conducted to date. This study will systematically test the hypothesis that these BE measures will predict changes in alcohol misuse during the transition to adulthood. The study has two primary aims. The first primary aim is to predict changes in alcohol misuse from age 22-25 using the novel BE measures, both individually and in the context of established risk factors. The second primary aim is to examine mechanistic interrelationships among these variables. This includes examining whether the BE variables cause changes in alcohol misuse over time or, alternatively, whether their influence is caused by the established risk factors. In addition, the study will examine whether there are systematic differences in the predictive relationships based on biological sex, university student status, and the use of other substances. For exploratory purposes, the study will also identify the most salient periods of change and psychosocial factors that increase or decrease the value of alcohol. Taken together, the study proposes to leverage recent advances in BE to substantially increase the understanding of maturing out of alcohol misuse.