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Drinking Before 15 Boosts Risk of Later Alcohol Abuse

Study suggests delaying imbibing as late as possible, until 18 or older, is best

THURSDAY, Oct. 2, 2008 (HealthDay News) -- Having that first drink before age 15 puts the imbiber at a higher risk for developing an alcohol problem later in life, a new report suggests.

"The key finding of this study was that people who started drinking before age 15, and to a lesser extent those who started drinking at ages 15 to 17, were more likely to become alcohol-dependent as adults than people who waited until 18 or older to start drinking," corresponding study author Deborah A. Dawson, a staff scientist at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism said in a news release from the institute.

The finding was expected to be published in the December issue of Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research.

"Some early drinkers become alcohol-dependent while still in their teens, a time when those who have not yet started drinking are not even at risk of becoming dependent," Dawson said. "By looking at adult-onset dependence, we can see for the first time that the association between early AFD (age at first drink) and increased AUD (alcohol-use disorder) risk is not time limited, but rather persists into adulthood."

The researchers' conclusions come from analyzing a three-year longitudinal study of more than 22,000 U.S. drinkers age 18 years of age older. The researches took into consideration duration of exposure, family history and a wide range of risk factors.

"We believe that impaired executive cognitive function (ECF) may lead to choices that favor the immediate pleasures of heavy drinking over avoiding the long-term risks of developing an AUD (alcohol-use disorder)," Dawson said. "Impaired ECF would likely result from frequent and/or extremely heavy drinking at early ages, not from the simple fact of having initiated drinking at early ages. The big question is whether the impaired ECF preceded and led to the early drinking [and the increased risk of AUD], or whether the early drinking caused the impaired ECF."

These findings, she added, help build a body of research that will eventually help scientists deduce whether early drinking is a marker of high risk for alcohol abuse or a direct risk factor for it.

"If the latter is true, it adds to the importance of preventing early drinking," she said. "Especially in light of the finding that the likelihood of developing these AUDs in adulthood is about 50 percent higher for persons who start drinking before 15 as for those who did not drink until 18 or older."

More information

The Partnership for a Drug-Free America has more about youth and alcohol use.

SOURCE: National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, news release, Sept. 29, 2008
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