Background: Heavy drinking in early adulthood among Blacks, but not Whites, has been found to be associated with more deleterious health outcomes, lower labor market success and lower educational attainment at mid-life. This study analysed psychosocial pathways underlying racial differences in the impact of early heavy alcohol use on occupational and educational attainment at mid-life. Methods: Outcomes in labor market participation, occupational prestige and educational attainment were measured in early and mid-adulthood. A mixture model was used to identify psychosocial classes that explain how race-specific differences in the relationship between drinking in early adulthood and occupational outcomes in mid-life operate. Data came from Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults, a longitudinal epidemiologic study. Results: Especially for Blacks, heavy drinking in early adulthood was associated with a lower probability of being employed in mid-life. Among employed persons, there was a link between heavy drinking for both Whites and Blacks and decreased occupational attainment at mid-life. We grouped individuals into three distinct distress classes based on external stressors and indicators of internally generated stress. Blacks were more likely to belong to the higher distressed classes as were heavy drinkers in early adulthood. Stratifying the data by distress class, relationships between heavy drinking, race and heavy drinkingerace interactions were overall weaker than in the pooled analysis. Conclusions: Disproportionate intensification of life stresses in Blacks renders them more vulnerable to long-term effects of heavy drinking.