How Does Age at First Alcohol Use Affect Risks for Hazardous Drinking?
Some alcohol consumers only started drinking after reaching the legal age of 21. However, many other consumers first started drinking while still underage. Unfortunately, underage alcohol intake is associated with a range of serious potential harms. In a study published in September 2014 in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research, researchers from the Yale University School of Medicine explored the impact that age at first alcohol use has on the odds that a teenager will drink frequently or frequently engage in the drunkenness-producing form of drinking known as binge drinking.
Teen Drinking Statistics
In the average month, about 39 percent of all U.S. high school seniors consume at least some amount of alcohol, according to figures compiled for the year 2013 through the federally funded, nationwide survey project called Monitoring the Future. Almost 26 percent of all 10th graders also consume at least some alcohol in the average month; the monthly alcohol intake rate for eighth graders is roughly 10 percent. Twenty-six percent of all American high school seniors drink enough alcohol to get drunk at least one time in the typical month. Almost 13 percent of 10th graders get drunk on at least one monthly occasion, while roughly 3.5 percent of eighth graders also drink enough to get drunk in the typical month. In comparison to the rates recorded for 2012, the rates for monthly alcohol use and monthly drunkenness among all three monitored grades fell by at least a slight amount. The rate for monthly alcohol use fell significantly among 12th graders, while the rate for monthly drunkenness fell significantly among 10th graders.
Underage Drinking Repercussions
People who are legally too young to drink account for roughly 11 percent of America’s total alcohol consumption, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report. Unfortunately, the vast majority (90-plus percent) of this alcohol intake occurs within the context of binge drinking, an activity that leads to a legal state of intoxication in no more than two hours. Any underage alcohol consumer has heightened risks for a range of seriously negative outcomes, including such things as non-fatal episodes of alcohol poisoning, fatal episodes of alcohol poisoning, physical assault exposure or perpetration, sexual assault exposure or perpetration, involvement in a life-threatening accident, involvement in homicidal violence, involvement in suicide, potentially permanent disruption of normal brain function, declining school performance, participation in unsafe sex and prosecution by the legal system. In addition, all underage drinkers who first consume alcohol at age 14 or younger have roughly 400 percent higher lifetime chances of developing alcohol use disorder (alcohol abuse and/or alcoholism).
Age at First Alcohol Use
In the study published in Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research, the Yale University researchers used data gathered from 295 teen alcohol consumers to investigate the impact that age at first alcohol use has on the frequency of alcohol intake and the frequency of binge drinking participation. On average, these teenagers were 16 to 17 years old. Each participant anonymously supplied the researchers with information that included his or her age at the time of initial alcohol consumption, his or her age at the time of an initial experience of drunkenness, the frequency of any alcohol consumption in the previous 30 days and the frequency of alcohol binging in the previous 30 days.
The researchers concluded that age at first alcohol use is directly linked to the age at which any given teenager first gets drunk. Essentially, teens who first drink at an earlier age also first get drunk at an earlier age. The researchers also concluded that first using alcohol at an early age has an impact on the odds that a teen will frequently drink alcohol in any amount or frequently binge on alcohol. In addition, the researchers concluded that early initiation of alcohol use and a relatively rapid transition to frequent drinking increase the odds that a teen will drink alcohol in large amounts.
The study’s authors concluded that, overall, the link between age at first alcohol use and drinking frequency/binge drinking is roughly the same for girl and boy teenagers, as well as for teens in each grade and teens with various racial/ethnic backgrounds. They believe that, in tandem, successful delaying of the age of first alcohol use and successful delaying of the age of initial drunkenness may considerably reduce teenagers’ general exposure to alcohol-related harm.
By: Gideon Hoyle