Research & Resources

Young Adult Birthday Celebrations as Windows of Risk for Alcohol and Cannabis Use: 21st Birthdays Compared to Other Young Adult Birthdays

Alcohol use among college students during 21st birthday celebrations constitutes a well-known example of event-specific drinking when alcohol use is both pervasive and heavy. Less is known about how 21st birthday alcohol use compares to other birthday celebrations during young adulthood, whether similar increases occur for cannabis use on 21st birthdays, and whether the “21st birthday effect” is similar for noncollege young adults. Alcohol and cannabis use during 19th to 25th birthday celebrations were explored among college and noncollege students. Participants were 720 young adults ages 18–23 at enrollment who completed 24 monthly surveys, with 204 reporting on a 21st birthday. Participants resided in a state where cannabis was legal and were asked the month following their 21st birthday whether they had engaged in alcohol or cannabis use as part of their birthday celebration. A “21st birthday effect” where alcohol use prevalence and quantity increased as part of their celebrations was found for all young adults. There were limited findings, however, supporting a “21st birthday effect” for cannabis use in the current sample. Findings highlight the need to expand event-specific prevention efforts targeting 21st birthday drinking to include noncollege young adults.

This paper, “Young adult birthday celebrations as windows of risk for alcohol and cannabis use: 21st birthdays compared to other young adult birthdays,” was funded by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) and the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) and published in the journal Psychology of addictive behaviors.

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