Early-age drinking is common in many western nations; for example, 54 percent of Australian 14- to 19-year olds have reported past-year alcohol use. Although early-age drinking has been associated with developing later alcohol problems, findings have been inconsistent. This study used data from the Australian Parental Supply of Alcohol Longitudinal Study to examine age at first drink, age of first drunkenness, and associations with subsequent drinking during adolescence.
Researchers asked 1,673 parent-child pairs recruited through Australian secondary schools to complete annual surveys for five years (grades 7 to 11). Data from the 839 adolescents who had started drinking by age 17 (18 years is the legal age to purchase alcohol in Australia) were then examined for associations among age at first full drink, age of first drunkenness, binge drinking, and total number of drinks consumed in the preceding year.
Early adolescent drinking was associated with a greater risk of binge drinking and heavier drinking during late secondary school years. These findings support delaying the initiation of alcohol drinking for as long as possible to reduce the risk of problematic use and related harms later in adolescence. Study authors also recommended the development of prevention strategies to interrupt the progression to more problematic drinking among young adolescents who do initiate drinking early.