This article is from the archives of the UB Reporter.

Assessing drinking risk

Adult drinking problem risk jumps as youths drink younger

Published: December 9, 2004

Reporter Contributor

Researchers with UB's Research Institute on Addictions have quantified the increased risk of having a drinking problem as an adult that is faced by individuals who start drinking alcohol as adolescents.

The likelihood of alcohol abuse or dependence later in life increases by 12 percent for each year of decrease in the age at first drink for both men and women, they reported recently in Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research.

They also reported that the earlier an individual began drinking alcohol, the greater the degree of alcohol intoxication experienced routinely on typical drinking occasions in adulthood.

The national telephone survey revealed that men and lifetime problem drinkers reported consuming their first alcoholic drink (other than just a taste) at an earlier age than women or non-problem drinkers, respectively.

"We believe that these findings strengthen the argument for identifying individuals who begin drinking at young ages and targeting them for possible prevention efforts," explained James York, lead investigator on the study.

"The finding of higher and significant correlations between age at first drink and lifetime drinking issues probably reflects the operation of a variety of variables contributing to problem drinking, rather than a direct causal relationship between the age at first drink and later problems."

York is a senior research scientist at RIA with an extensive background in age- and gender-related effects of alcohol, as well as the medical consequences of alcohol and drug use.

Data for the study were drawn from a national telephone survey of 2,276 people (981 men and 1,295 women) between the ages of 18 and 91 who reported how old they were when they had their first drink. The age and race/ethnicity distribution of the sample was similar to that in the general population.

York said women reported taking their first drink at about age 18, while men reported starting to drink at about age 16.

Supporting the view that women are becoming more like men in their drinking habits, the study showed that the age at first drink was more similar for young men and women than for older age groupings by gender. In addition, the prevalence of current drinking (had a drink during the past 12 months) was closer for women (67 percent) and men (73.4 percent) in this study than reported in earlier studies.

RIA coinvestigators on the study include John W. Welte, RIA senior research scientist and research associate professor in the Department of Social and Preventive Medicine in the School of Public Health and Health Professions; Grace M. Barnes, RIA senior research scientist and adjunct associate professor in the Department of Sociology in the College of Arts and Sciences; Judith Hirsch, research associate; and Joseph H. Hoffman, RIA statistician.

The study was funded in part by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

The Research Institute on Addictions has been a leader in the study of addictions since 1970 and a UB research center since 1999.