Age at First Intoxication More Important than Age at First Drink

Much research focuses on early age of first drink. Researchers usually call this early onset of drinking. (They ignore age at first intoxication.) Many report that age at first drink is associated with later drinking problems. However, no one knows why this is so.

There are two obvious possibilities. One is that early onset of drinking somehow causes later problems. This assumption leads to policies designed to prevent young people from drinking.

The other is that beginning to drink at an early age results from early personality characteristics. For example, from thrill-seeking. By studying pre-schoolers, psychologists have been able to predict those who would later have alcohol-related problems. This was years before they ever tasted alcohol.

The Study

Researchers examined the link between age at first drink and specific behaviors. They were the following.

  • Low academic performance.
  • Physical fights.
  • Injury in fights.
  • Marijuana use.
  • Smoking tobacco.

The study was based on a sample of 44,801 15-year-olds from 38 countries in North Ameria and Europe. The youth were in the Health Behavior of School-age Children cross-national study.


age at first intoxicationResearchers found significant association between age at time of first drink and problem behaviors. However, they only found it among those who had been intoxicated. It didn’t exist among those who had never been drunk.

The authors concluded that age of first drink is not a risk factor for problem behaviors at age 15. On the other hand, early age of intoxication is a risk factor.

In addition, they found no relationship between age at first drink and age at first intoxication.

Resources: Age at First Intoxication More Important than Age at First Drink


Kuntsche,E., et al. Not early drinking but early drunkenness is a risk factor for problem behaviours among adoescents. Alco Clin Exper Res, 2013, 37(2), 308-314.