Drinking malt liquor — the cheap, high-alcohol beverage often marketed to teens — may put young adults at increased risk for alcohol problems and use of illicit drugs, particularly marijuana, according to a new study of malt liquor drinkers and marijuana use by scientists at the University at Buffalo’s Research Institute on Addictions (RIA).
“In our study of young adults who regularly drink malt liquor,” reports lead researcher R. Lorraine Collins, senior research scientist at RIA, “we found that malt liquor use is significantly related to reports of alcohol problems, problems specific to the use of malt liquor and to marijuana use above and beyond typical alcohol use.” Collins also is a research professor in the Department of Psychology, UB College of Arts and Sciences.
The study consisted of 639 young adults (456 men) of approximately 23 years of age who regularly consume 40 ounces or more of malt liquor per week. They were recruited from the community-at-large, as well as Buffalo Niagara area colleges. The participants were heavy drinkers, averaging 30 alcoholic drinks — including 17 malt liquor drinks — per week.
In addition to malt liquor use, marijuana was the illicit drug of choice, with 46 percent reporting simultaneous use of malt liquor and marijuana. Individuals who used malt liquor and marijuana together smoked 19 marijuana joints, on average, during a typical week, whereas those who did not use the two together smoked two marijuana joints, on average, during a typical week. Very few participants reported regular use of other illicit drugs.
For those individuals who use malt liquor and marijuana simultaneously, the study showed that they first drank alcohol at a younger age (between 13 and 14 years) and reported more substance use (particularly marijuana use) and more alcohol-related problems than those who did not use both malt liquor and marijuana together.
Sixty-one percent of the participants reported that they consumed one to two 40-ounce containers of malt liquor on a typical drinking occasion. Given malt liquor’s higher alcohol content — 6-11 percent
alcohol — this level of intake could translate into 3.5 (one 40-oz. bottle at 6 percent) to 14 (two 40-oz. bottles at 11 percent) standard drinks.
“These results suggest that regular consumption of malt liquor, beyond that associated with typical alcohol use, may place young adults at increased risk for substance abuse problems,” Collins says. “Although many of these young people may not yet meet diagnostic criteria for alcohol dependence, there is clearly a need for prevention strategies targeted to their patterns of drinking and particularly excessive drinking of malt liquor.”
Collins’ colleagues on the study were Clara M. Bradizza, RIA senior research scientist and research assistant professor in the Department of Psychiatry, UB School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, and Paula C. Vincent, data manager on the RIA project.
The results were published in a recent issue of the American Psychological Association journal Psychology of Addictive Behaviors.
The research was funded by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.
The Research Institute on Addictions has been a leader in the study of addictions since 1970 and a research center of the University at Buffalo since 1999.
The University at Buffalo is a premier research-intensive public university, the largest and most comprehensive campus in the State University of New York. UB’s more than 27,000 students pursue their academic interests through more than 300 undergraduate, graduate and professional degree programs. Founded in 1846, the University at Buffalo is a member of the Association of American Universities.