If a person starts drinking alcohol before 14 years of age he/she is at a 78% higher risk of having an alcohol problem in later years compared with people who start when they are at least 21, say researchers from Boston University School of Public Health, USA. Children who start drinking when they are 14 or under have a 47% risk of becoming alcohol-dependent one day, compared to 9% of people who started consuming alcohol after 21.
The researchers found that the earlier the drinking started before the age of 21, the higher the risk, year-by-year, of alcoholism later in life.
You can read about this study in the Archives of Pediatric & Adolescent Medicine, July issue.
Ralph W. Hingson and team looked at information from interviews with 43,000 Americans aged over 18 from the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions, 2002 - 2002. Of the people interviewed, 4% were alcoholics when the interview took place while over 12% had had an alcohol dependency problem at some time. The data relied on interviewees trying to remember how old they were when they first started drinking.
Of concern was data that indicated that those who started drinking alcohol at 14 or younger had a much higher chance of becoming alcoholics within ten years of their first drink. The risk was there regardless of sex, race, educational level, marital status, socioeconomic level, antisocial behaviour history and smoking patterns.
The study did not take into account whether the people suffered undue stress during their childhood, such as sexual abuse or psychological abuse. There are factors, which could have caused a child to start drinking, and drinking to excess. How important these factors are in causing alcohol dependency is unclear.
The researchers say further studies are needed to see whether programs to encourage kids to postpone the age at which they start drinking might have any impact on adult levels of alcoholism.
Authors: Ralph W. Hingson, ScD, MPH; Timothy Heeren, PhD; Michael R. Winter, MPH
Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2006;160:739-746.