Early Onset to Begin Drinking
It is a very common theme in AA meetings and other 12 step groups about how young alcoholics started drinking. I always wondered if this had an effect on later alcoholism, although I know many alcoholics who started drinking much later in life. Looking at the research below it seems that the age a person started drinking can predict later problems with alcohol. Interestingly “disinhibited” behaviour, such as impulsiveness and not being able to “stop oneself” from engaging in certain behaviours also have a bearing on later alcohol problems, as does adverse childhood experiences and the amount of alcoholism in the family.
The age of onset to begin regular drinking is an important predictor of age of first alcohol problem and subsequent alcohol dependence (1,2), as well as greater severity and persistence of problems with illicit drugs (3).
For individuals that initiated drinking prior to age 14 years, the likelihood of adult alcohol dependence was 40%, four times more likely than individuals who began drinking at 20 years or older (2) . It was also reported that individuals that drank before age 14 years were more than twice as likely to become alcohol dependent than those trying alcohol after age 16 years (4).
A number of factors such as early adverse childhood experiences (5,6) and familial density of alcoholism (7,8), predict earlier age of drinking onset.
Earlier onset of drinking also appears to be related to the presence of behaviors often characterized as “disinhibited”.There is also abundant evidence that behavioral under-control is an important determinant of later development of substance use disorders (SUD) (9,10). Behavioral under-control observed as early as 3 years is predictive of alcohol-related problems at 21 years (11), and in adolescents mediates the relationship between family history of alcoholism and young adult SUDs (12)
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2. Grant BF, Dawson DA. Age at onset of alcohol use and its association with DSM-IV alcohol abuse and dependence: results from the National Longitudinal Alcohol Epidemiologic Survey.Journal of Substance Abuse. 1997;9:103–110.
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5. Rothman EF, Edwards EM, Heeren T, Hingson RW. Adverse childhood experiences predict earlier age of drinking onset: results from a representative US sample of current or former drinkers. Pediatrics. 2008;122(2):e298–e304.
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11. Caspi A, Moffitt TE, Newman DL, Silva PA. Behavioral observations at age 3 years predict adult psychiatric disorders. Longitudinal evidence from a birth cohort. Archives of General Psychiatry. 1996;53(11):1033–1039.
12. King KM, Chassin L. Mediating and moderated effects of adolescent behavioral undercontrol and parenting in the prediction of drug use disorders in emerging adulthood.Psychology of Addictive Behaviors. 2004;18(3):239–249.