BACKGROUND: Alcohol use typically begins during adolescence and escalates into young adulthood. This represents an important period for the establishment of alcohol use and misuse patterns, which can have psychosocial and medical consequences. Although changes in alcohol use during this time have been phenotypically characterized, their genetic nature is poorly understood. METHODS: Participants of the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children completed the Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test (AUDIT) 4 times from age 16 to 20. We used Mplus to construct a growth model characterizing changes in AUDIT scores across time (N = 4,545, where data were available for at least 2 time points). The slope of the model was used as the phenotype in a genomewide association study (N = 3,380), followed by secondary genetic analyses. RESULTS: No individual marker met genomewide significance criteria. Top markers mapped to biologically plausible candidate genes. The slope term was moderately heritable (h(2)SNP = 0.26, p = 0.009), and replication attempts using a meta-analysis of independent samples provided support for implicated variants at the aggregate level. Nominally significant (p < 0.00001) markers mapped to putatively active genomic regions in brain tissue more frequently than expected by chance. CONCLUSIONS: These results build on prior studies by demonstrating that common genetic variation impacts alcohol misuse trajectories. Influential loci map to genes that merit additional research, as well as to intergenic regions with regulatory functions in the central nervous system. These findings underscore the complex biological nature of alcohol misuse across development.