Early drinking linked to higher lifetime alcoholism risk

Data from a survey of 43,000 U.S. adults heighten concerns that early alcohol use, independent of other risk factors, may contribute to the risk of developing future alcohol problems. Those who began drinking in their early teens were not only at greater risk of developing alcohol dependence at some point in their lives, they were also at greater risk of developing dependence more quickly and at younger ages, and of developing chronic, relapsing dependence. Among all respondents who developed alcoholism at some point, almost half (47 percent) met the diagnostic criteria for alcohol dependence (alcoholism) by age 21.

The associations between early drinking and later problems held even after investigators controlled for other risk factors for dependence, adding to concerns that drinking at a young age might raise the risk of future alcohol problems rather than being an identifying feature of young people predisposed to risky behavior. The study appears in the July issue of Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, Volume 160, pages 739-746.

Elias Zerhouni, M.D., director of the NIH, said, "This is a very good example of how insights gained from health research can inform public policy. Converging research suggests that youthful drinking is associated with an increased risk of long-term, not just acute, health consequences.

Scientists at the Boston University School of Public Health and Youth Alcohol Prevention Center, led by Dr. Ralph Hingson,* carried out the analysis using data from the 2001-2002 National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions (NESARC), a representative survey of the U.S. civilian noninstitutionalized population aged 18 years and older.

NESARC involved face to face interviews with adults ages 18 and older. The survey used questions based on diagnostic criteria for alcohol abuse and alcohol dependence from the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Sta

Contact: Charlotte Armstrong
NIH/National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism

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