Teens Who Get Drunk Sooner Are More Likely To Become Heavy Drinkers

By Victoria Kim 10/01/14

A new research study has concluded that teens who abuse alcohol earlier in life have more chance of becoming alcoholic.

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Early onset drinking and the quick progression from one’s first drink to drinking to the point of intoxication are both risk factors for subsequent heavy drinking.

These risk factors have already been demonstrated in college students, but a new study published in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research has extended this research to a sample of high school students.

“Teenagers who have their first drink at an early age drink more heavily, on average, than those who start drinking later on,” said Meghan E. Morean, an assistant professor of psychology at Oberlin College, Ohio, an adjunct assistant professor of psychiatry at Yale School of Medicine, and a corresponding author for the study.

The study surveyed 295 adolescent drinkers—163 females and 132 males. The average age of the predominantly Caucasian group was 16 years. The participants completed an anonymous survey about their substance use and were asked to assess their own frequency of binge drinking, their age when they first tried alcohol or got drunk, and about their drinking activity in the past month.

Early onset drinking is one of the most frequently studied risk factors for subsequent heavy drinking, but findings have been inconsistent. Quickly progressing from the first drink to drinking to the point of intoxication is an alternative risk factor, and this study confirmed that its effect is substantial.

“In total, having your first drink at a young age and quickly moving to drinking to the point of getting drunk are associated with underage alcohol use and binge drinking, which we defined as five or more drinks on an occasion in this study,” Morean said.

If adolescents move quickly from having their first drink to drinking to the point of intoxication, they are expected to be heavier drinkers than their peers who wait longer to get drunk for the first time.

“Efforts to distinguish between age of first alcohol use and progression to first heavy use as risk factors for heavy drinking have important implications for prevention efforts,” said William R. Corbin, associate professor and director of clinical training in the department of psychology at Arizona State University.

Morean recommended parental and school involvement in delaying drinking to intoxication in order to reduce adolescents’ long-term risk for negative outcomes associated with early drinking, such as pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections.

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Victoria is interested in anything that has to do with how mind-altering substances impact society. Find Victoria on LinkedIn or Tumblr