Kids who drink early in life: What does it mean for their future?

  • An early age of first drink (AFD) is associated with a number of negative life outcomes.
  • A new study looks at what variables may precede or even predict AFD.
  • Surprisingly, aspects of the child and the child's environment seemed to affect their AFD more than family history of alcohol dependence.

Alcohol experimentation in late childhood or early adolescence is a common event. An early age of first drink (AFD), however, is associated with a variety of negative outcomes. A study in the October issue of Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research looks at variables that may precede or predict AFD, with a focus on four areas: child characteristics, family demographics, family psychopathology, and child behavior problems. Surprisingly, aspects of the child and the child's environment seemed to affect their AFD more than family history of alcohol dependence.

"A number of studies have demonstrated that an early AFD is associated with increased rates of childhood psychiatric disorders, lowered success in school and extracurricular activities, increased criminal behavior, and lowered overall life satisfaction and productivity," said Samuel Kuperman, director of the division of child psychiatry at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics and corresponding author for the study. "These problematic outcomes continue into adulthood, with reported increases in both alcohol-related diagnoses as well as non alcohol-related problems of increased rates of psychiatric diagnoses, poorer physical health, less stability of employment and committed relationships, and increased criminal behavior."

Yet the relationship between an early AFD and later problems is not one of "cause and effect," said Stephan Arndt, a professor in psychiatry at the Carver College of Medicine at the University of Iowa.

"The relationship between drinking early in adolescence and later negative outcomes in drinking is a simple observed co


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