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Early Drinking is Linked to a Higher Risk of Alcoholism

Most adult alcoholics in the United States began drinking before the age of 21. That's the result of a new survey of 43,000 Americans.

"I think girls my age drink pretty much every weekend." That’s what one young girl says. If it is true, then the girls who drink are in trouble.

A recent study by the U.S. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism shows the younger a person is when he or she starts drinking, the greater the risk of alcohol dependency as an adult.

Ralph Hingson was the lead author of the study. "What we found was not only are those who start early more likely to develop dependence, they develop it more rapidly."

The study says children who start drinking alcohol before they are 14 have a drastically higher risk of having an alcohol problem than those who start when they are 21. Nearly half of all alcoholics start drinking before the age of 21. Two-thirds start by the time they are 25.

Hingson says when children or young people are allowed to drink, even at dinner with their parents, their risk of developing a dependency increases. He says this is true regardless of nationality or educational level. "And we found that those who start to drink at a younger age are likely to have features of chronic relapsing dependence."

"They are more likely to have longer episodes of dependence,” continued Hingson. “And they are more likely to have multiple episodes. They are more likely to have dependence during any year of their life. And they are more likely to meet dependence criteria."

Another study, this one funded by U.S. distillers, shows that women and girls are more at risk for alcoholism. Diageo North America is a major producer of alcoholic drinks.

Company Vice President Carolyn Panzer says, "The research shows that women are more affected by alcohol than men. We have a lower tolerance to alcohol because of our body weight. And so we feel the effects of intoxication sooner from the exact same amount of alcohol."

Parents play a key role in preventing their children from developing an alcohol dependency says psychologist Sylvia Rimm. "We have solid research that says when parents are clear to their kids about not drinking, they are much less likely to drink."

The study team led by Ralph Hingson concluded that adults need to help children and young people postpone drinking alcohol. Researchers now want to find out whether programs that encourage children and young adults to postpone the age when they take that first drink affects the levels of adult alcoholism.

Some video courtesy of The Century Council
Some video courtesy of Journal of The American Medical Association
Some video courtesy of Diageo North America