Building on and extending previous studies, this paper provides the strongest evidence to date that the links of adolescent positive expectancies with alcohol use and misuse extend well into adulthood for both men and women. In a national sample, adolescents’ positive alcohol expectancies (but not negative expectancies) predicted concurrent alcohol use, and relative changes in alcohol use and alcohol misuse one and two decades later, independent of prior drinking. This effect, observed for both men and women, was more pronounced for men. The long-term prediction over a significant period of the life course, which includes major transitions in every domain of life, is striking. For example, the positive association between age 16 exam scores and age 26 alcohol use perhaps reflects an increase in drinking that accompanies post-secondary education (Bachman et al
). Such longitudinal effects provide clear support for the importance of the early formation of beliefs about alcohol in the primary school years (Miller et al
) and the need for greater focus on interventions designed to address these beliefs.
The current study extends previous empirical and theoretical work in several ways. First, by lengthening the time frame of prediction into adulthood to 19 years, our findings point to the lasting impact of adolescent alcohol expectancies on self-reported quantity of alcohol use and alcohol misuse into middle adulthood. The long-term predictive power of positive alcohol expectancies shows that these adolescent beliefs are not just proximal predictors but also operate as prospective indicators of alcohol use and misuse in adulthood. Adolescents who believe that alcohol use is rewarding may be more likely to experiment with substance use and then to perceive positive consequences and attribute them to alcohol use, thus perpetuating a reciprocal feedback loop (Sher et al.
; Aas et al.
Second, our results add new empirical findings to an inconsistent literature on positive and negative expectancies. Positive expectancies were stronger unique predictors of adult alcohol use and misuse than were negative expectancies, consistent with some previous literature (Jones et al.
). However, we did not find unique prediction of negative expectancies in the presence of covariates in this study, a finding that differed from others that reported positive (Gerrard et al.
; Patrick and Maggs, 2008
) or negative (Leigh, 1989
; Goldman and Roehrich, 1991
; Cooper, 1994
; Petraitis et al.
; Baer, 2002
; Kuntsche et al.
) associations with alcohol use. Positive and negative expectancies were positively inter-correlated and correlated with age 16 drinking, suggesting that stronger expectancies of both types may be indicative of greater prior drinking experience. Furthermore, the positive expectancies measure used here described social facilitation expectancies while the negative expectancies measure described expectancies that alcohol would lead to adverse physical symptoms. Future research should include items regarding negative effects on social interactions to compare the perceived effects of alcohol on positive and negative consequences for social relationships that are so important to adolescents (e.g. Allen et al
Third, with respect to gender, the effect of positive expectancies on alcohol consumption was stronger for males than for females. This finding builds upon previous research documenting that men's and women's drinking may be differentially sensitive to expectancies and motivations (Griffin et al.
; Jones et al.
; Patrick and Maggs, 2008
). More investigation is needed to determine whether this gender difference could be the result of differences between men and women in personality, previous experience with alcohol use or social role expectations.