A study from Yale University reveals that the younger people are when they first drink alcohol, the more likely they are to drink heavily as adults.
Over a four-year period, researchers examined 1,160 students who were moving from high school to university. The students answered questions about when they first started drinking, how often they drank heavily and any alcohol-related problems they had.
The findings showed that the earlier teens tried alcohol, the more likely they would be struggling to control how much they drank in college.
“As expected, beginning to use alcohol at an earlier age was associated with heavier drinking and the experience of more negative consequences during senior year of college,” said lead author Meghan Morean, Ph.D.
“Quickly progressing from first alcohol use to drinking to intoxication was also an important predictor of heavy drinking and the experience of alcohol related problems during senior year of college.”
“For example, an adolescent who consumed his first drink at age 15 was at greater risk for heavy drinking and problems than an adolescent who took his first drink at age 17,” she added.
“Further, an adolescent who took his first drink at age 15 and also drank to intoxication at age 15 was at greater risk for heavy drinking and problems than an adolescent who had his first drink at age 15 and did not drink to the point of intoxication until he was 17.”
Morean noted that prior studies have proved the same link between an early age of first drink and negative alcohol-related outcomes. These include compromised brain development, drug abuse, cirrhosis of the liver and risky sexual behaviors.
However, she noted that although there is a clear association, more research is needed to see if the link is cause and effect. Either way, she recommends teens delay early drinking.
“The best way to prevent heavy drinking and the experience of alcohol-related problems is to prevent alcohol use,” she said. “Therefore, our first recommendation would be to delay the onset of any alcohol use as long as possible.”
“It is important to speak to children and adolescents openly about the dangers of heavy drinking and provide them with correct information, for example, ‘how many drinks does an average male/female need to drink to exceed the legal level for intoxication’?”
“It is also extremely important to remember that heavy drinking during adolescence and early adulthood is not confined to college campuses,” she added.
“Most adolescents begin drinking during high school, a significant portion of whom begin drinking heavily. To help address this, we suggest that new alcohol prevention and intervention efforts targeting high school students be developed with the goal of delaying onset of heavy drinking among those at increased risk due to an early onset of drinking,” she said.
Results of the study will be published in the November 2012 issue of Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research.
Source: Yale University