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Early Drinking Influences Alcohol Addiction in Adulthood

It is fairly common to hear parents talk about the need to teach their children how to drink responsibly.  Apparently, many people assume that responsible use of alcohol at home will be projected to youth as they get older.

This is a dangerous assumption.

Recent research has focused on the connection between the age when a person first uses alcohol and their alcohol problems later in life. Delaying the onset of alcohol use has been proposed as a strategy to prevent alcohol dependence or abuse in adulthood.

The National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) asks persons aged 12 or older to report how old they were when they first used alcohol, how frequently they used alcohol during the past year and in the past month, and their symptoms of alcohol dependence or abuse during the past year. NSDUH defines alcohol dependence or abuse using criteria specified in the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV), which include such symptoms as recurrent alcohol use resulting in physical danger, trouble with the law due to alcohol use, increased tolerance to alcohol, and giving up or reducing other important activities in favor of alcohol use.

The results of this study showed that among adults aged 21 or older who had ever used alcohol, rates of past year alcohol dependence or abuse were lowest when people first used alcohol at an older age. Rates of dependence and abuse were highest among those who initiated alcohol use at a younger age.

Only 3 percent of people who first used alcohol at age 21 or older were classified as having alcohol dependence or abuse in the past year. In comparison, those reporting first use of alcohol before age 15 were more than 5 times as likely to have alcohol dependence or abuse in the past year.

This research clearly shows that the using alcohol at an early age is associated with problem alcohol use years later. It is best to avoid exposing children to any form of alcohol, in order to help avoid alcohol dependency at a later age.

About the Author

Gary L. Hopkins, MD, DrPH, MPH is currently an associate research professor at Andrews University in Berrien Springs, Michigan where he is also associate director of the Institute for Prevention of Addictions, Director of the Center for Prevention Research and Director of the Center for Media... Read More

Tagged as: addiction, alcohol, youth