Identifying Patterns of Alcohol Use and Obesity-Related Factors Among Emerging Adults: A Behavioral Economic Analysis


Background: Although heavy alcohol consumption and maladaptive eating behaviors have been shown to co-occur among college students, less is known about the co-occurrence of these behaviors in a more diverse community-dwelling, emerging adult sample. The purpose of this study was to: (i) identify classes of emerging adults by their reported alcohol consumption patterns, food addiction symptoms, and body mass index; and (ii) determine whether these classes differed on indices of behavioral economic reinforcer pathology (e.g., environmental reward deprivation, impulsivity, alcohol demand). Method: Emerging adult participants were recruited as part of a study on risky alcohol use (n = 602; 47% white, 41.5% Black; mean age = 22.63, SD = 1.03). Participants completed questionnaires on alcohol and food-related risk factors and underwent anthropometric assessment. Results: Latent profile analysis suggested a four-profile solution: a moderate alcohol severity, overweight profile (Profile 1; n = 424, 70.4%), a moderate alcohol severity, moderate food addiction + obese profile (Profile 2; n = 93, 15.4%), a high alcohol severity, high food addiction + obese profile (Profile 3; n = 44, 7.3%), and a high alcohol severity, overweight profile (Profile 4; n = 41, 6.8%). Individuals in Profile 1 reported significantly lower levels of environmental reward deprivation than either Profile 2 or 3, and participants in Profile 3 reported significantly higher environmental reward deprivation than those in Profile 4 (p < 0.001). Profile 4 demonstrated significantly higher alcohol demand intensity and Omax and lower demand elasticity than Profile 1, Profile 2, or Profile 3. Profile 4 also demonstrated significantly greater proportionate substance-related reinforcement than Profile 1 (p < 0.001) and Profile 2 (p = 0.004). Conclusion: Maladaptive eating patterns and alcohol consumption may share common risk factors for reinforcer pathology including environmental reward deprivation, impulsivity, and elevated alcohol demand.

Publication Title

Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research