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Early Drinkers End Up With Problems

By March 8, 2011

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There are parents who believe that letting their children drink at home keeps them from developing problems with alcohol, because they will see drinking as no big deal. If you are one of those parents, you may want to rethink your position. Early onset drinking is by far the best predictor of developing alcoholism in the future.

Kids who drink before age 15 and those who develop problems before 18 are six times more likely to be diagnosed as alcohol dependent by age 25.

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) an estimated 5.9% of all children ages 12 to 14 in the U.S. consider themselves to be "current drinkers," meaning within the past 30 days.

Getting Alcohol at Home

Of those estimated 709,000 children, 93.4% say they got their alcohol free the last time they drank. Almost half of them (44.8%) got their alcohol from their home and about one-third of those were given alcohol free by their parents or guardians.

These figures come from the 2009 National Surveys on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) survey of more than 44,000 children ages 12 to 14. The report is available online in PDF format.

"People who begin drinking alcohol before the age of 15 are six times more likely than those who start at age 21 and older to develop alcohol problems. Parents and other adults need to be aware that providing alcohol to children can expose them to an increased risk for alcohol abuse and set them on a path with increased potential for addiction," said SAMHSA Administrator Pamela S. Hyde, J.D. in a news release.

Alcoholics By Age 25

A new Indiana University study has confirmed that early drinking leads to later problems. Researchers studied 597 sets of twins, interviewing them at age 18 and again at age 25. The twins who reported more drinking-related problems by age 18 were much more likely to be diagnosed as alcoholics by age 25.

The surprising finding of the Indiana study was that twins with similar disinhibition traits, but who drank differently by age 18, had different outcomes by age 25.

Both the SAMHSA officials and the Indiana researchers agree that allowing youngsters to drink at home is a bad idea. Instead, the focus of parents should be in preventing or delaying drinking until age 21.


Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. "SAMHSA Data Spotlight: Young Alcohol Users Often Get Alcohol from Family or Home." Feb. 2011.

Dick DM, et al. "Rutgers Alcohol Problem Index Scores at Age 18 Predict Alcohol Dependence Diagnoses 7 Years Later." Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research February 2011.

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