Researchers study risk factors for teen alcohol abuse

Much research has been done on when people begin to drink. However, little work has investigated the time period between a person’s first drink and the first time he or she got drunk. The research findings were published in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research.

The study authors found that high school students who drank at a young age and experienced their “first drunk” early on were more likely to segue quickly to binge drinking and teen alcohol abuse.

The effects of drinking progression

Lead author and Oberlin College professor Meghan Morean noted the importance of these two factors in adolescence.

“The current study extends this research in two important ways. First, this work demonstrates that starting to use alcohol at an early age and quickly progressing to drinking to intoxication jointly are related to teen alcohol abuse and binge drinking. Second, this research focused on high school students.”

These two factors also play a large role in prevention efforts.

“If age of any use is the primary risk factor, our efforts should be primarily focused on preventing initiation of any use,” said ASU associate professor William Corbin. “If, however, age of first intoxication – or delay from first use to first intoxication – is a unique risk factor above and beyond age of first use, prevention efforts should also target those who have already begun drinking in an effort to prevent the transition to heavy drinking.”

The researchers surveyed 295 high school drinkers with an average age of 16 about their drinking habits in February 2010. The survey questions asked when participants had their first drink, the first time they got drunk and how often they binge drank.

The findings indicated that adolescents who had their first drink earlier on were more likely to become heavy drinkers than teens who began drinking later. The researchers noted that if teenagers had their first drink at 14 and their first intoxication within the year, they would drink more heavily than teens who waited to get drunk later on.

A first for the age group

The researchers stated that though these conclusions have already been drawn in college students, they have not been explored for high schoolers. They believe asking students about their drinking habits recently is a more accurate measurement method than asking college students to remember their first time.

The findings revealed that the first drink had greater long-term effects than the first intoxication. However, the study authors noted that there should be prevention efforts for both. The researchers noted the importance of prevention efforts, since approximately 80 percent of high schoolers begin drinking alcohol by their senior year. In 2011, the National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that 25 percent of youths between 12 and 20 drink alcohol.

Parents’ influence on Teen Alcohol Abuse

The group believes a “two-part strategy” is needed to tackle the issue, including parental involvement. They believe parents should attempt to delay their children from drinking as long as possible. However, if teens have already had their first drink, the researchers suggest parents urge their teens to wait for their first time getting drunk. That delay may help prevent a worse situation later on.

They believe parents having a mature conversation with their children on the dangers of drinking and alcohol abuse can help adolescents make more informed decisions later on. The researchers also noted that parents who monitor their children can prevent early alcohol use and that taking quick action if they learn their children are abusing alcohol can help delay binge drinking.

“This study highlights the fact that heavy drinking is quite prevalent among high school students,” said Morean. “To help address the prevalence of heavy drinking during high school, we would suggest that new alcohol prevention and intervention efforts targeting high school students be developed with the goal of delaying drinking onset and onset of heavy drinking among those at increased risk.”

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