Early Age Drinking Leads to Severe Problems Later

Programs put in place to keep children away from alcohol are an important tool in the fight against substance abuse. According to recent research, the age at which a person takes a first drink could influence genes linked to alcoholism. As a result, the youngest drinkers are the most susceptible to severe problems.

Researchers, led by scientists at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, studied 6,257 adult twins from Australia. The summary of this study was captured in a recent Science Daily release.

In studying the twins, researchers hoped to determine if early age alcohol consumption would lead to a more heritable form of alcohol dependence as compared to individuals who began drinking later in life. The study findings suggest the younger the individual was at first drink, the greater the risk for alcohol dependence. It also increased the impact the role of genetic factors played.

"There seemed to be a greater genetic influence in those who took their first full drink at a younger age," said first author Arpana Agrawal, Ph.D., in Science Daily. "That’s very consistent with what has been predicted in the literature and in the classification of types of alcohol dependence, but we present a unique test of the hypothesis."

In the process of this study, Agrawal’s team determined that when twins started drinking early, genetic factors had a major impact on their risk for alcohol dependence. The rates soured as high as 90 percent in the youngest drinkers. Those who started drinking later in life were impacted more by environmental factors than genetic factors.

"Something about starting to drink at an early age puts young people at risk for later problems associated with drinking," Agrawal says. "We continue to investigate the mechanisms, but encouraging youth to delay their drinking debut may help."