Epidemiology and Prevention of Alcohol Misuse in Understudied Young Adult Populations; Military, Workforce, and Community College


Mike Hilton, Ph.D., Division of Epidemiology and Prevention Research


The purpose of this future grant application solicitation is to balance the NIAAA research portfolio by supporting research on alcohol misuse among persons aged 18 to 29 who are not enrolled in four-year colleges or universities.  These persons are commonly in the military, workforce, or community college populations, which are understudied relative to their age peers in four-year colleges.  Research on epidemiology, prevention, and screening centered on these understudied populations are all encouraged.


The trajectory of alcohol misuse among late adolescents and young adults has been a central topic of interest in research on alcohol epidemiology and prevention.  This is because both heavy drinking and alcohol misuse peak in the late teens and early twenties, declining thereafter.  For example, pooled data from the 2018 and 2019 waves of the National Survey of Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) show that the prevalence of past month binge drinking peaks to 43% at age 21 and remains above 40% through age 25.

The age period 18 to 29 is one where several risk factors concentrate.  Alcohol becomes legally available, there is a transition away from parental oversight, normative perceptions and alcohol expectancies tend to support heavier drinking, and intimate relationship formation becomes a focus of social life.

Consequently, much research on alcohol epidemiology and prevention has focused on this age period.  However, the bulk of that research has focused on four-year college students.  Perhaps this is not surprising given that student subjects are “close to hand” for university-based researchers and in an environment that can be monitored and regulated to some degree, and that college administrators have raised the demand for interventions with demonstrated effectiveness. NIAAA’s College AIM product demonstrates that this campus-focused research has borne fruit.

However, other population segments in the same age category have been understudied.  These most notably include young adults who are in the military, the workforce, or community colleges.  This future solicitation will encourage research on: the dynamics of risk and protective factors for alcohol misuse, AUD and other alcohol-related consequences among these groups, the development and validation of effective prevention interventions, and the improvement of screening, brief interventions, and referral to treatment (SBIRT) protocols for these groups.


Given these considerations, NIAAA will encourage the submission of, but is not limited to, research applications in the following areas:

  • Studies that adapt and validate interventions known to be efficacious in college populations to other young adult populations.
  • Studies of novel interventions that have been specifically developed to be efficacious in understudied populations of young adults.
  • Studies of whether the constellation of risk and protective factors operate in the same way among both college and non-college populations, and the identification of risk and protective factors particularly salient among young adults in the workforce, military, community college setting or who are unemployed.
  • Studies of whether the developmental trajectories of risk and protective factors accelerate or decelerate among young adult populations depending on their environment..
  • Trials of the most effective ways to deliver prevention interventions to young adults in settings other than college campuses.
  • Trials evaluating screening, brief intervention, and referral to treatment targeted to young adults in the workforce, military, or community college setting.
  • Trials of improved methods for delivering screening, brief intervention, and referral to treatment targeted to young adults in the understudied groups.
  • The impact of PTSD and combat deployment as comorbidities in the risks of alcohol use disorders among young adult military and veteran populations.
  • Gaps in health disparities among young adults.
  • Studies comparing the impact of alcohol policies on college and other young adult populations.


The outcome sought here is a better balance in NIAAA’s research portfolio between studies focused on traditional four-year college students and studies focused on military, workforce, and community college populations.