Drinking Behavior May Be Tied to Early Alcohol Use

Young kids who drink learn to use alcohol as stress-reliever, expert says

WEDNESDAY, March 16 (HealthDay News) -- Young adults are more likely to be heavy drinkers if they took their first drink of alcohol at an early age and also had to cope with stressful life events, a new study suggests.

The finding comes from a study that included 166 women and 140 men in Germany who were asked about when they started drinking, whether they'd encountered any stressful life events in the previous three years, what daily hassles they might have had in the previous months, and what their drinking behaviors were at age 22. Participants also provided details about the amount of alcohol they consumed and how often they drank in the month before they were questioned.

"We found that the impact of stressful life events on drinking behavior depends on the age at first drink," study first author Dorothea Blomeyer, a senior researcher at the Central Institute of Mental Health in Mannheim, said in a news release from Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research. The study has been published online and will be in the journal's June issue.

"The earliest [age at first drink] in our sample was 8 years; about half of the study participants had initiated alcohol drinking before they were 14 years old," Blomeyer said. "The earlier they start with alcohol use, the stronger the association between life stress and drinking in youth adults. We found this interaction effect only for the variable 'total amount of alcohol,' not for the number of drinking days. This fits to the pattern of stress-related drinking, which is characterized by a higher number of drinks, and not so much by frequent drinking."

It's likely that people who start drinking at a very young age "learn to use alcohol in stressful situations during adolescence because research indicates that, during adolescence, drinking is particularly rewarding under stressful circumstances," Blomeyer said.

However, whether some events have a greater effect on alcohol use than others remains unclear. "In our study, every single event was counted equally to form the sum score, so the question has to be answered by following research," she said.

More information

The U.S. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism has more about young adult drinking.

Robert Preidt SOURCE: Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, news release, March 15, 2011

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