The Decline of Substance Use in Young Adulthood: Changes in Social Activities, Roles, and Beliefs

By Jerald G. Bachman; Patrick M. O'Malley et al. | Go to book overview

1
Introduction and Overview

First come the new freedoms, then the new responsibilities. It is hardly that simple, of course; there are a great many exceptions. Nevertheless, the sequence experienced by most young adults is an opening up of new freedoms soon after completing high school, followed in most cases by the gradual assumption of an increasing number of new responsibilities ….

What do we conclude … about whether changes in drug use during young adulthood can be attributed to new freedoms and responsibilities? In the case of cigarettes, we think that the increases during the first several years after graduation are attributable fairly directly to the fact that young smokers escape the close constraints on smoking imposed by high-school attendance. Turning to the declines observed from the early twenties onward in consumption of alcohol, marijuana, cocaine, and even (among women) cigarettes, we think they are caused in considerable measure by the shifting balance between freedoms and responsibilities—the fact that increasing proportions of young adults assume new obligations, especially to spouses and children, as they move through their twenties and into their thirties.

—Bachman, Wadsworth, O'Malley, Johnston,
and Schulenberg, 1997, pp. 183, 185

We quote these conclusions from our previous book because they represent the starting point for this book. These earlier findings left us convinced that a variety of changes in drug use during young adulthood can be traced—directly or indirectly—to changes in role constraints and responsibilities that occur during the years following high school. The task now is to discover why new freedoms and responsibilities cause drug use to change.

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