Young Teen Drinkers at High Risk for Alcoholism as Adults

New findings from a group of Australian researchers demonstrate that a preteen or teenager who starts drinking before age 18 is unusually likely to fall into a pattern of addiction-supporting heavy drinking as a young adult.Figures from the National Institute on Drug Abuse indicate that roughly 41 percent of American teenagers consume at least some amount of alcohol in a given year. Unfortunately, teens who drink alcohol knowingly or unknowingly expose themselves to number of serious, severe or life-threatening problems. In a study published in February 2015 in the International Journal of Drug Policy, researchers from Australia’s National Drug Research Institute gauged the impact that consuming any amount of alcohol before reaching age 18 has on the odds that a teenager or younger child will drink heavily (and thereby steeply increase the risks for diagnosable alcohol use disorder) after the transition into adulthood.

Teenagers and Alcohol Consumption

Every year, the National Institute on Drug Abuse and the University of Michigan collaborate on a nationwide survey project called Monitoring the Future, which assesses current and long-term substance use trends among a representative group of teenagers enrolled in 12th grade, 10th grade and eighth grade. The University of Michigan released the results for the 2014 version of Monitoring the Future in December 2014. The findings from this version of the survey indicate that teen involvement in alcohol consumption is clearly on the decline in the U.S. Despite this fact, significant numbers of adolescents (especially those individuals in the 12th grade) drink alcohol on a monthly basis.

The year 2014 also saw a drop in teen participation in a highly dangerous drinking practice called binge drinking, which centers on the intake of enough alcohol to reach a legally intoxicated state in no more than 120 minutes. The combined alcohol binging rate for 12th, 10th and eighth graders is currently almost 50 percent lower than the rate identified in 1997. Twelfth graders generally get drunk considerably more often than their counterparts in other grades and also meet the standards for binge drinking more frequently.

Heavy Drinking

Heavy drinking is dangerous largely because it accustoms the brain to levels of alcohol capable of triggering the lasting changes responsible for the establishment of alcohol dependence or alcoholism. Even when a heavy drinker doesn’t develop alcoholism, he or she has clearly increased chances of developing a diagnosable case of non-dependent alcohol abuse. About 20 percent of all men and women who drink heavily once monthly will meet the criteria for alcohol use disorder (the current diagnosis for all cases of alcoholism and alcohol abuse) as a younger or older adult. Roughly 50 percent of all men and women who drink heavily twice weekly will meet the alcohol use disorder criteria. People who drink heavily once a week have an intermediate 33 percent lifetime rate of exposure to alcohol use disorder.

Impact of Drinking at Age 17 or Younger

In the study published in the International Journal of Drug Policy, the National Drug Research Institute researchers used data from an American project called the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health to gauge the impact that initiation of alcohol use before age 18 has on the odds that a young adult will qualify as a heavy drinker. The researchers included information gathered from 2,316 teens and younger children. Before completing their analysis of this information, they used advanced statistical techniques to account for the possible influence of other factors not associated with age at first drink.

The researchers concluded that, for any given individual, exposure to alcohol intake at age 17 or younger is linked to an increased likelihood of drinking heavily after transitioning into adulthood. They also concluded that the link between age at first drink and heavy drinking in young adulthood is causal. This means that age at first drink directly helps set the level of risk for young-adult heavy drinking. The study’s authors believe that alcohol abstinence among teens and preteens below the age of 18 will probably significantly lower the risks for diagnosable alcohol issues in young adulthood.

Posted on April 24th, 2015
Posted in Teens

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