Study focuses on age of first alcoholic drink

Having a first alcoholic drink at the early age of 12, 13 or 14 might be influenced more by a child’s tendency to do things like lie, steal or skip school than by a family history of alcohol dependency, according to findings by University of Iowa and other investigators.

The study results appear in the October issue of the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research.

The investigation is the first in a series on problems in adolescence and was based on data from nine sites, including the UI, in the ongoing Collaborative Study of the Genetics of Alcoholism. The researchers compared children ages 7 to 17 from families with a high occurrence of alcohol dependence and families without such history.

To see what might predict or precede an early age of first drink, the team analyzed several behaviors and conditions in the study participants’ childhoods: attention-deficit hyperactivity symptoms, conduct disorder symptoms (such as fighting, lying, stealing, skipping school), anxiety and depression, and whether each child’s parents or other close family members had diagnoses of alcoholism or antisocial personality disorder (aggressive, unpleasant behavior).

“We found, somewhat surprisingly, that having a family history of alcohol dependency or anti-social personality disorder does not relate to age of first drink. However, the number of conduct disorder symptoms a child has does relate to the age of first drink,” said Samuel Kuperman, M.D., corresponding author and professor of psychiatry in the UI Roy J. and Lucille A. Carver College of Medicine.

“For each major conduct symptom in a child’s life, the age of first drink decreased by about three months,” added Kuperman, who also is director of the child psychiatry division in Children’s Hospital of Iowa at UI Hospitals and Clinics.

Kuperman said some previous studies reported that a family history of alcoholism or antisocial personality disorder relates to an earlier age of first drink. However, he noted, those studies did not take into account the additional negative behaviors and conditions included in the current study.

“This study helps put things in perspective. It is not just the age of first drink that relates to negative outcomes. There are often bad things happening to these children and the age of first drink represents just one of them and is not the most important one,” Kuperman said.

Kuperman said the team will continue to study what factors, including age of first drink, are important in predicting negative outcomes for youth.

From University of Iowa

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