Page last updated: September 17, 2018

Adverse adult consequences of different alcohol use patterns in adolescence

A study of 9,000 adolescents across Australia and New Zealand has found that those who drink weekly before age 17 are two to three times more likely to binge drink, drink drive, and be dependent on alcohol in adulthood compared with peers who don’t drink.

The study led by researchers from UNSW Sydney followed young people from age 13 to 30 and provides evidence that early patterns of drinking are not limited to adolescence but rather persist into adulthood and are associated with a range of alcohol related problems.

Three patterns of alcohol use (frequent, heavy episodic and problem drinking) were assessed prior to age 17. Thirty outcomes were assessed to age 30 spanning substance use and related problems, antisocial behaviour, sexual risktaking, accidents, socio-economic functioning, mental health and partner relationships.

The analysis found that weekly drinking prior to age 17 was associated with a two- to threefold increase in the odds of binge drinking [odds ratio (OR) = 2.14], drink driving (OR = 2.78), alcohol-related problems (OR = 3.04) and alcohol dependence (OR = 3.30) in adulthood. Frequency of drinking accounted for a greater proportion of the rate of most adverse outcomes than the other measures of alcohol use. Associations between frequent, heavy episodic and problem drinking in adolescence and most non-alcohol outcomes were largely explained by shared risk factors for adolescent alcohol use and poor psychosocial functioning.

The authors conclude that frequency of adolescent drinking predicts substance use problems in adulthood as much as, and possibly more than, heavy episodic and problem drinking independent of individual, family and peer predictors of those outcomes.

Source: Adverse adult consequences of different alcohol use patterns in adolescence: an integrative analysis of data to age 30 years from four Australasian cohorts. E Silins, LJ Horwood, J M Najman, GC Patton, JW Toumbourou, CA Olsson, DM Hutchinson, L Degenhardt, DA Fergusson, D Becker, JM Boden, R Borschmann, M Plotnikova, GJ Youssef, RJ Tait, P Clare, WD. Hall & RP Mattick. Addiction.

doi:10.1111/ add.14263

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