Early drinking linked to risk for alcohol dependence

July 03, 2006

Individuals who are younger when they begin drinking alcohol may face a higher risk of alcohol dependence throughout life, at a younger age and consisting of multiple episodes, according to results of a national survey published in the July issue of Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, one of the JAMA/Archives journals.

Approximately 1 million U.S. high school students are frequent heavy drinkers, according to background information in the article. Previous surveys have found that 28 percent of high school students begin drinking before age 13 years, and that those who do are more likely to drink until they are intoxicated than those who wait until age 17 years or older to begin drinking. Heavy drinking places these students at risk for dangerous behaviors, including driving while intoxicated. These students also more often exhibit behaviors including carrying guns; injuring themselves in fights or suicide attempts; having unprotected sex; and earning low grades in school.

Ralph W. Hingson, Sc.D., M.P.H., and colleagues at the Youth Alcohol Prevention Center, Boston University School of Public Health, analyzed results from a national survey of 43,093 adults age 18 years and older conducted in 2001 and 2002. Interviewers asked questions about demographics, behavior, history of depression, drug use, family history of alcohol dependence and the age at which they began drinking. They identified respondents with alcohol dependence based on meeting at least three of seven standard criteria: tolerance for alcohol; withdrawal symptoms; drinking more alcohol or for longer periods of time than intended; willingness but inability to cut down on drinking; spending a great deal of time on alcohol-related behaviors; forgoing important social, work-related or recreational activities in favor of drinking; and continued drinking despite related physical or psychological problems. Individuals who met the criteria for alcohol dependence were asked how old they were when they first began to have several of these experiences at once as well as how many episodes (periods separated by at least one year of not drinking or not having these experiences) they had over their lifetimes.

Overall, 12.5 percent of all the survey respondents and 19 percent of those who had ever drank alcohol met criteria for alcohol dependence at some point in their lives--a figure representing more than 26 million Americans. Forty-seven percent of those who began drinking at a young age (younger than age 14 years) experienced alcohol dependence during their lifetimes, compared with 9 percent of those who began drinking at age 21 years or older. Those who were younger than age 14 when they began drinking were also more likely to be alcohol-dependent within 10 years of beginning drinking (27 percent vs. 4 percent of those starting at age 21 years or older), before age 25 years (33 percent vs. 2 percent) and during the year of the survey (13 percent vs. 2 percent). They also had more than three times the odds of experiencing two or more episodes of alcohol dependence in their lifetimes.

"Usually, each additional year earlier than age 21 years that a respondent began to drink, the greater the odds that he or she would develop the alcohol dependence outcomes examined," the authors write. "This study found that the younger respondents were when they began drinking, the greater their likelihood of experiencing lifetime alcohol dependence after analytically controlling for family history of alcoholism and numerous behavioral and personality characteristics related to the age at drinking onset."

The results highlight the need for pediatricians and other health care professionals to discuss alcohol use with adolescent patients and to implement policies that discourage drinking at younger ages, the authors conclude.
(Arch Pediatr Adoles Med. 2006;160:739-746. Available pre-embargo to the media at www.jamamedia.org.)

Editor's Note: This study was supported by a grant from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

For more information, contact JAMA/Archives Media Relations at 312/464-JAMA (5262) or e-mail mediarelations@jama-archives.org.

The JAMA Network Journals

Related Alcohol Articles from Brightsurf:

Alcohol use changed right after COVID-19 lockdown
One in four adults reported a change in alcohol use almost immediately after stay-at-home orders were issued: 14% reported drinking more alcohol and reported higher levels of stress and anxiety than those who did not drink and those whose use stayed the same.

Changes in hospitalizations for alcohol use disorder in US
Changes over nearly two decades in the rate of hospitalizations and in-hospital deaths from alcohol use disorder in the US were examined in this study.

Associations of alcohol consumption, alcohol-induced passing out with risk of dementia
The risk of future dementia associated with overall alcohol consumption and alcohol-induced loss of consciousness in a population of current drinkers was examined in this observational study with more than 131,000 adults.

New alcohol genes uncovered
Do you have what is known as problematic alcohol use?

Does estrogen influence alcohol use disorder?
A new study from researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago shows that high estrogen levels may make alcohol more rewarding to female mice.

Sobering new data on drinking and driving: 15% of US alcohol-related motor vehicle fatalities involve alcohol under the legal limit
A new study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, published by Elsevier, found that motor vehicle crashes involving drivers with blood alcohol concentrations (BACs) below the legal limit of 0.08 percent accounted for 15% of alcohol-involved crash deaths in the United States.

Alcohol-induced deaths in US
National vital statistics data from 2000 to 2016 were used to examine how rates of alcohol-induced deaths (defined as those deaths due to alcohol consumption that could be avoided if alcohol weren't involved) have changed in the US and to compare the results by demographic groups including sex, race/ethnicity, age, socioeconomic status and geographic location.

Cuts in alcohol duty linked to 2000 more alcohol-related deaths in England
Government cuts to alcohol taxes have had dramatic consequences for public health, including nearly 2000 more alcohol-related deaths in England since 2012, according to new research from the University of Sheffield's School of Health and Related Research (ScHARR).

Integrated stepped alcohol treatment for people in HIV care improves both HIV & alcohol outcomes
Increasing the intensity of treatment for alcohol use disorder (AUD) over time improves alcohol-related outcomes among people with HIV, according to new clinical research supported by the National Institutes of Health.

The Lancet:Targets to reduce harmful alcohol use are likely to be missed as global alcohol intake increases
Increasing rates of alcohol use suggest that the world is not on track to achieve targets against harmful alcohol use, according to a study of 189 countries' alcohol intake between 1990-2017 and estimated intake up to 2030, published in The Lancet.

Read More: Alcohol News and Alcohol Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.