early puberty and early drinking

Early Onset of Drinking: What Research Shows May Surprise You!

Early onset of drinking. That is, early age when people begin to drink. What are the results of early onset of drinking? Some say it leads to alcoholism (alcohol dependence) later in life.

            Overview

I.   Caution from NIAAA

II.  Federally-funded Research

III. Predicting Alcohol Behaviors

IV.  False Conclusion

V.   They Ignore NIAAA Warning

VI.  References

I. Caution from NIAAA

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) summarizes research on the subject. Specifically, on the eelationship between the oearly onset of drinking and later alcohol dependence.

early onset of drinkingPeople who begin drinking before age 15 are four times more likely to develop alcohol dependence at some time in their lives compared with those who have their first drink at age 20 or older. It is not clear whether starting to drink at an early age actually causes alcoholism or whether it simply indicates an existing vulnerability to alcohol use disorders. For example, both early drinking and alcoholism have been linked to personality characteristics such as strong tendencies to act impulsively and to seek out new experiences and sensations. Some evidence indicates that genetic factors may contribute to the relationship between early drinking and subsequent alcoholism. 1 (Emphasis added)

II. Federally-funded Research

Federally funded research seriously question swhether early age of first drink has any effect on any later alcohol-related problems. Alcohol researcher Dr. Helene White elaborates.

[A]ge of onset may simply be a marker of an already existing syndrome of problem behaviors. Studies have consistently found that early disruptive behaviors (e.g., conduct disorder) are related to later substance use and abuse, and that the onset of disruptive behaviors often occurs prior to alcohol use initiation. McGue and colleagues found that those who first started drinking before age 15 compared to those who started later were at much higher risk for developing alcohol dependence as well as other drug dependence and other externalizing disorders.

They argued that all of these outcomes are manifestations of disinhibitory behavior or psychopathology, and that early onset of alcohol use may reflect a vulnerability to disinhibitory behavior. Furthermore, they found that several indicators of disinhibitory behavior actually preceded age of onset. Therefore, their findings refuted a causal path from age of onset to later alcoholism. In a subsequent study, they concluded that a common inherited vulnerability model appears to explain the association of early age of onset and later alcoholism.2

III. Predicting Alcohol Behaviors

Researchers who study small children’s behavior can predict later alcohol behaviors long before they took their first drink.

Trained interviewers rated children’s ability to control their impulses and behavior (behavioral control). They also rated childrens’ flexibly in adapting  their self-control to environmental demands (resiliency). This they did this from the time children were between three and five years old.  Interviewers repeated this every three years until the children reached the age of 12 to 14. The researchers found that low behavioral control and resiliency predicted the onset of alcohol drinking in adolescence.

Similarly, other researchers found that age at first drink is not causally associated with alcoholism . Instead, it’s associated with a wide range of indicators of disinhibited behavior and psychopathology. Individuals who first drank at an early age exhibited high rates of disinhibitory behavior and psychopathology before they first try alcohol. They published their research in , in “Age at first drink and risk or alcoholism: a non causal association,” 3

IV. False Conclusion

Anti-alcohol activists point to the early age of first drink and later alcoholism found in some research. They say that if we keep  people from drinking until age 20 or older, they will be less likely to become alcoholic. An  example Joseph Califano, founder of the Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA). He misleadingly asserts that “teen drinking is the number one source of adult alcoholism. Children who begin drinking before age 21 are more than twice as likely to develop alcohol-related problems. Those who begin drinking before age 15 are four times likelier to become alcoholics than those who do not drink before age 21” (CASA website).

Similarly, a Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE) official makes another false statement. He asserts that “research tells us if we can keep the kids off cigarettes and alcohol, by the time they graduate there’s almost zero percent chance they will abuse any other type of drug.” He presumably refers to graduation from high school.

The research says no such thing. It only states a relationship found in limited research, which may or may not be correct. But even if the relationship really does exist, it doesn’t mean that keeping young people from drinking will reduce their risk of alcoholism.

V. They Ignore NIAAA Warning

Activists conveniently ignore NIAAA’s very important warning that early age of first drink may well not be the cause of later alcoholism. And that caution is based on research evidence. Both early onset of drinking and alcoholism may be caused by underlying personality traits. They include such athings as impulsivity, sensation seeking, or genetic factors.

For example, sensation-seeking personalities may drink at an early age, engage in unprotected sex, gamble, drive recklessly, abuse alcohol, etc. Preventing them from engaging in any one of these behaviors would have absolutely no effect on any of the others. Similarly, preventing early drinking would have no effect whatsoever on a person’s genetic makeup, which may be the cause of alcohol dependence. 3

Does early onset of drinking increase the risk of alcohol dependence? Probably not. And there’s other evidence that it doesn’t. For example, some groups and societies  introduce children to the consumption of alcohol at an early age.  Such groups include Jews, Italians, Greeks, Spaniards, and Portuguese. Yet they tend to have low rates of alcoholism and fewer alcohol-related problems.

Needless to say, alcohol activists never mention the research evidence that those who begin drinking later than most of their peers are also more likely to experience drinking and alcohol-related problems. That wouldn’t support their agenda.

VI. References

1. NIAAA) Alcohol Alert, #59. Internal references deleted.

2. White, H. Age at First Consumption and Future Alcohol- Related Problems. Invited Opinion. International Center for Alcohol Policies, n.d.

3. Prescott, C. and Kendler, K. Age at first drink and risk for alcoholism: A non causal association. Alco Clin Exper Res, 1999, 23(1), 101-107. (In spite of its title, this report examines alcohol problems in addition to alcoholism.)