Early drunkenness may be riskier than an early age at first drink for problem behaviors

December 14, 2012

Many studies have reported that the earlier the age at first drink (AFD) the higher the chances of that person developing later drinking-related problems. However, it is unclear why consuming small quantities at an early age should lead to later problems. A new study of linkages between AFD and problem behaviors - smoking, marijuana use, injuries, fights, and low academic performance - among 15-year-olds has found that early drunkenness was a risk factor rather than an early AFD.

Results will be published in the March 2013 issue of Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research and are currently available at Early View.

"The problem is that people tend to think of early drinking onset in terms of toxicity exposure," explained Emmanuel Kuntsche, a senior scientist at Addiction Switzerland as well as corresponding author for the study. "That is, the longer any creature is exposed to a toxic circumstance, the worse. Or, the earlier the toxic circumstance was in place, the worse today's outcome. However, this thinking neglects two principal issues when it comes to alcohol use: one, consumption of small amounts of alcohol such as a sip are not toxic, and two, the majority of the population is not constantly exposed to toxic amounts of alcohol. Adolescent drinking patterns in particular are characterized by large variations from day to day with longer periods of abstinence."

"This is a remarkable study, shedding light on an area too often considered obvious," added Allaman Allamani, former co-ordinator of the Florence Health Agency Alcohol Centre, and presently with the Tuscany Regional Health Agency. "The great majority of studies, in fact, simply imply a causal relationship between early AFD and later drinking problems. This was probably due to the fact that in some drinking cultures, where most of these studies were conducted, and for many adolescents there, the first drink may be a drunkenness experience."

"First, we argue that an early AFD can be a marker of other problems such as conduct disorder, being a child of alcoholic parents, or having experienced childhood trauma," said Kuntsche. "But an early AFD does not have to be a marker of problems. For example, I drank the foam from my father's beer in a pub when he was not watching. I was five years old and became quite inebriated. Still, I think I've done quite well in life. Second, we argue that early drunkenness is the main risk factor, not an early AFD."

Kuntsche and his colleagues analyzed data gathered through the 2005/2006 edition of the Health Behaviour in School-aged Children (HBSC) cross-national survey, which has been conducted every four years since 1983 among 11-, 13-, and 15-year-olds in collaboration with the World Health Organization. For this study, the sample for analysis was comprised of 44,801 alcohol-experienced 15-year olds (23,322 girls, 21,479 boys) from 38 North American and European countries and regions.

"We found that early drunkenness was a risk factor for various adolescent problem behaviors at 15 years of age rather than an early AFD," said Kuntsche. "We believe that future research should focus on the problems behind early drunkenness rather than on the AFD per se. Prevention efforts need to focus on impeding early drunkenness in order to prevent subsequent harm during adolescence and beyond."

"It is also important to consider that early drunkenness is not the only risk factor for later problems," said Allamani. "Indeed, even if it is usually true that you cannot be drunk if you are not drinking, the study shows that early drinking is not sufficient for an adolescent to get drunk. Therefore other factors should be considered to explain this comportment at the moment that drunkenness appears. The authors suggest negative life events, behavioural problems, and parents' alcoholism as possible underlying problems."

"I think these findings have important implications for parents," said Kuntsche. "People/parents should not panic when they become aware that a child/young adolescent has taken one sip or glass of any alcoholic beverage. They should simply explain to the underage person that this is an inappropriate behavior because, for example, alcohol consumption is problematic for the developing brain. In addition, parents should set clear restrictive rules to impede underage drinking, as well as sanctions for transgression of the rules. At the same time they should foster closeness with their kids, for example, by instigating joint family activities."

Allamani agreed. "The study findings imply the relevance of the family context, where the first moderate drink may be experienced," he said. Drinking is not an individual behavior, but an interactional one. Through their own behavior, family adult members transmit both values and behaviors to their children. They may be oriented towards moderation, but also to risk or to abuse. As adults, we should be aware of our decisive role in front of our kids."
-end-
Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research (ACER) is the official journal of the Research Society on Alcoholism and the International Society for Biomedical Research on Alcoholism.

Co-authors of the ACER paper, "Not Early Drinking but Early Drunkenness is a Risk Factor for Problem Behaviors among Adolescents from 38 European and North American Countries," were: Ingeborg Rossow of the Norwegian Institute for Alcohol and Drug Research; Bruce Simons-Morton of the Prevention Research Branch at the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development; Tom Ter Bogt of Interdisciplinary Social Sciences at Utrecht University; Anna Kokkevi of the University Mental Health Research Institute, Athens, and the Department of Psychiatry at Athens University Medical School; and Emmanuelle Godeau of the University Paul Sabatier, and Service Médical du Rectorat, both of Tolouse. The study was funded by the Swiss Federal Office of Public Health.

This release is supported by the Addiction Technology Transfer Center Network at http://www.ATTCnetwork.org.

Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research

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.