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Taking a Drink During Childhood Can Raise Your Odds of Addiction Later in Life

By Allison McCabe 12/05/13

Even the mere taste of alcohol at a young age might increase the odds of becoming addicted as an adult.

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It might take just one sip.
Photo via Shutterstock

Two recent studies claim to have found a link between the age a child takes his first alcoholic drink and his later drinking behavior. These studies hypothesize that the younger a child is when he is first exposed to alcohol, the higher his chances of later becoming an alcohol abuser.

The first study, done at the University of Pittsburgh, surveyed 450 kids from Allegheny County. The children filled out questionnaires at fourteen distinct points between ages eight and eighteen. They were asked questions including when they had their first taste of alcohol, the first time they had consumed three or more drinks, and if they had ever gotten drunk. The researchers found that childhood exposure to alcohol was widespread, and that even sipping an alcoholic drink at a young age correlated with later heavy alcohol use. If a child had consumed an alcoholic drink by age ten, for example, that child was twice as likely to be drinking regularly by age fourteen.

In a similar study, researchers from the University of Heidelberg in Germany examined the correlation between children who took their first drink at puberty and later drinking behavior. The researchers collected data on 283 adults, determining the age at which they took their first drink, and then tracked their drinking behavior at ages 12, 22, and 23. They then did a similar study using rats. The results showed that alcohol use during puberty predicted heavier drinking later in life.

The author of the German study, Dr. Miriam Schneider, believes that the developing brain in puberty could explain the results: “It is during puberty that substances like drugs of abuse – alcohol, cannabis, etc. – may induce the most destructive and also persistent effects on the still-developing brain, which may in some cases even result in disorders such as schizophrenia or addiction.” In order to prevent later problems, experts advise, “an alcohol-free childhood is the safest option.”

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Allison McCabe is the editor in chief of The Fix. She has written for LA Weekly, Village Voice, Junk: a literary fix, Ramshackle Review, Main Street Journal and others. Follow Allison on Twitter.

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