Early onset of alcohol consumption has sometimes been associated with subsequent alcohol abuse. This has led many people to argue that the way to prevent alcohol abuse is to prevent young people from drinking for as long as possible.

However, a recent study has concluded that both early onset of drinking and subsequent alcohol abuse are caused by other things. That is, begining to drink at an early age doesn't cause drinking problems. To the contrary, both early drinking and drinking problems appear to be caused by a combination of genetics and environment.

In short, genetics and environment appear to be causing both drinking at an early age and drinking problems. Thus, early onset of drinking doesn't cause alcohol abuse.

This suggests that programs that manage to delay the onset of early drinking will nevertheless fail to reduce alcohol abuse. And that is exactly what research on the outcomes of such programs has repeatedly demonstrated.

Actually, teaching young people to drink in moderation may, in fact, reduce drinking problems.


  • Prescott, Carol A., and Kendler, Kenneth S. Age at first drink and risk for alcoholism: A noncausal association. Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, 1999, 23(1), 101-107. (In spite of its title, this report examines alcohol problems in addition to alcoholism.)