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Federally funded research continues to seriously question whether early age of first drink has any effect upon later alcohol dependence or alcohol-related problems. McGue, M., et al. Origins and Consequences of Age at First Drink. I. Associations with Substance-Use Disorders, Disinhibitory Behavior and Psychopathology, and P3 Amplitude. Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research. 25(8): 1156-1165, August 2001. The authors found that “AFD (age at first drink) is not specifically associated with alcoholism but rather is correlated with a broad range of indicators of disinhibited behavior and psychopathology. Moreover, individuals who first drink at a relatively early age manifest elevated rates of disinhibitory behavior and psychopathology before they first try alcohol. Taken together, these findings suggest that the association of AFD with alcoholism reflects, at least in part, a common underlying vulnerability to disinhibitory behavior. Whether an early AFD directly influences risk of adult alcoholism remains unclear.” They also report that “problems seen in adulthood among early drinkers existed prior to their taking that first drink, which suggests that developmental processes were already disrupted prior to that first drink. Thus, an early AFD is more likely a 'symptom' of an underlying vulnerability of disinhibitory processes rather than a 'cause' of increased rates of alcoholism" (Age at First Drink: What Does It Really Mean? University of Minnesota/Virginia Commonwealth University press release, 8-14-01).

Researcher Helene White explains that

age of onset may simply be a marker of an already existing syndrome of problem behaviors (Glantz & Leshner, 2000). Studies have consistently found that early disruptive behaviors (e.g., conduct disorder) are related to later substance use and abuse, and that the onset of disruptive behaviors often occurs prior to alcohol use initiation (e.g., Costello et al., 1999). McGue and colleagues (2001b) found that those who first started drinking before age 15 compared to those who started later were at much higher risk for developing alcohol dependence as well as other drug dependence and other externalizing disorders. They argued that all of these outcomes are manifestations of disinhibitory behavior or psychopathology, and that early onset of alcohol use may reflect a vulnerability to disinhibitory behavior. Furthermore, they found that several indicators of disinhibitory behavior actually preceded age of onset. Therefore, their findings refuted a causal path from age of onset to later alcoholism. In a subsequent study, McGue and colleagues (2001a) concluded that a common inherited vulnerability model appears to explain the association of early age of onset and later alcoholism. Prescott and Kendler (1999) also showed that the association between age of onset and later alcoholism was mediated by common genetic factors and, thus, they refuted any causal association. (White, Helene. Age at First Consumption and Future Alcohol- Related Problems. Invited Opinion. International Center for Alcohol Policies, n.d.

References cited by Dr. White are Costello, J., Erkanli, A., Federman, E., & Angold, A. (1999). Development of psychiatric comorbidity with substance abuse in adolescents: Effects of timing and sex. Journal of Clinical Child Psychology, 28, 298-311; Glantz, M.D., & Leshner, A.I. (2000) Drug abuse and developmental psychopathology. Development and Psychopathology, 12, 795-814; McGue, M., Iacono, W.G., Legrand, L.N., & Elkins, I. (2001a). Origins and consequences of age at first drink. II. Familial risk and heritability. Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, 25, 1166-1173; McGue, M., Iacono, W.G., Legrand, L.N., Malone, S., & Elkins, I. (2001b). Origins and consequences of age at first drink. I. Associations with substance-use disorders, disinhibitory behavior and psychopathology, and p3 amplitude. Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, 25, 1156-1165; and Prescott, C.A., & Kendler, K.S. (1999). Age of first drink and risk for alcoholism: A noncausal association. Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, 23,101-107.

References

1. Underage Drinking Enforcement Training Center. December 2004 Resource Alert. Calverton, MD: Underage Drinking Enforcement Training Center, December, 2004.

2. Research Institute on Addictions. Study reinforces fact women are becoming more like men in their drinking habits. Press release, Research Institute on Addictions, SUNY Buffalo, November 23, 2004.

3. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). Alcohol Alert, #59, April, 2003. The references cited in the NIAAA quote are: (25) Grant, B.F., and Dawson, D.A. Age of onset of alcohol use and its association with DSM–IV alcohol abuse and dependence: Results from the National Longitudinal Alcohol Epidemiological Survey. Journal of Substance Abuse 9:103–110, 1997. (26) Dawson, D.A. The link between family history and early onset alcoholism: Earlier initiation of drinking or more rapid development of dependence? Journal of Studies on Alcoholism 61(5): 637–646, 2000. (27) Rose, R.J. A developmental behavior–genetic perspective on alcoholism risk. Alcohol Health & Research World 22(2): 131–143, 1998. (28) Virkkunen, M., and Linnoila, M. Serotonin in early–onset alcoholism. In: Galanter, M., ed. Recent Developments in Alcoholism. Vol 13: Alcohol and Violence. New York: Plenum Press, 1997. pp. 173–189. (29) Kono, Y.; Yoneda, H.; Sakai, T.; et al. Association between early–onset alcoholism and the dopamine D2 receptor gene. American Journal of Medical Genetics (Neuropsychiatric Genetics) 74(2): 179–182, 1997.

4. Age at First Drink: What Does It Really Mean? University of Minnesota/Virginia Commonwealth University press release, 8-14-01.

Readings

Dawson, D.A. The link between family history and early onset alcoholism: Earlier initiation of drinking or more rapid development of dependence? Journal of Studies on Alcoholism 61(5): 637–646, 2000.

Grant, B.F., and Dawson, D.A. Age of onset of alcohol use and its association with DSM–IV alcohol abuse and dependence: Results from the National Longitudinal Alcohol Epidemiological Survey. Journal of Substance Abuse 9:103–110, 1997.

Huff, D. How to Lie with Statistics. NY: Norton, 1993.

Milloy, S. J. Junk Science Judo: Self-Defense Against Health Scares and Scams. Washington, DC: Cato Institute, 2001.

Milloy, S. J. Science Without Sense: The Risky Business of Public Health Research. Washington, DC: Cato Institute, 1995.

Research Institute on Addictions. Study reinforces fact women are becoming more like men in their drinking habits. Press release, Research Institute on Addictions, SUNY Buffalo, November 23, 2004.

Rose, R.J. A developmental behavior–genetic perspective on alcoholism risk. Alcohol Health & Research World 22(2): 131–143, 1998.

Underage Drinking Enforcement Training Center. December 2004 Resource Alert. Calverton, MD: Underage Drinking Enforcement Training Center, December, 2004.

Virkkunen, M., and Linnoila, M. Serotonin in early–onset alcoholism. In: Galanter, M., ed. Recent Developments in Alcoholism. Vol 13: Alcohol and Violence. New York: Plenum Press, 1997. pp. 173–189.

Yoneda, H.; Sakai, T.; et al. Association between early–onset alcoholism and the dopamine D2 receptor gene. American Journal of Medical Genetics (Neuropsychiatric Genetics) 74(2): 179–182, 1997.

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