A new study of college undergraduates reveals an early age at first drink (AFD) and early intoxication has been linked to later alcohol-related problems.
"Many studies have found relationships between an early AFD and a range of negative alcohol-related outcomes later in life, including the development of alcohol use disorders, legal problems like DUI, and health problems like cirrhosis of the liver," said Meghan Rabbitt Morean, a postdoctoral fellow in the department of psychiatry at Yale University School of Medicine and corresponding author for the study. "There is also evidence that beginning to drink at an early age is associated with more immediate problems, such as compromised brain development and liver damage during adolescence, risky sexual behaviors, poor performance in school, and use of other substances like marijuana and cocaine."
Morean and her colleagues examined 1,160 freshman (766 females, 394 males) using data gathered from bi-annual assessments from the summer following high-school senior year through the fall of the fourth year of college (four years in total). Analyses looked at the effects of AFD and the time from first use to first intoxication as predictors of heavy drinking and problems across the four years from high school through college.
"As expected, beginning to use alcohol at an earlier age was associated with heavier drinking and the experience of more negative consequences during senior year of college," said Morean. "Quickly progressing from first alcohol use to drinking to intoxication was also an important predictor of heavy drinking and the experience of alcohol related problems during senior year of college. For example, an adolescent who consumed his first drink at age 15 was at greater risk for heavy drinking and problems than an adolescent who took his first drink at age 17. Further, an adolescent who took his first drink at age 15 and also drank to intoxication at age 15 was at greater risk for heavy drinking and problems than an adolescent who had his first drink at age 15 and did not drink to the point of intoxication until he was 17."
"The best way to prevent heavy drinking and the experience of alcohol-related problems is to prevent alcohol use," said Morean. "Therefore, our first recommendation would be to delay the onset of any alcohol use as long as possible. However, despite valiant prevention efforts, the average American adolescent has his or her first alcoholic drink between the ages of 14 and 15 years."