Environment Influences Age of First Drink
But Family History of Alcoholism May Not Affect When Children Start Drinking
WebMD News Archive
Oct. 13, 2005 -- When a child has his first alcoholic drink may depend much
more on his own behavior and environment than a family history of alcohol
A new study shows children's environment and how they react to that
environment are more important determinants of the age of first drink than
"A number of studies have demonstrated that an early [age of first
drink] is associated with increased rates of childhood psychiatric disorders,
lowered success in school and extracurricular activities, increased criminal
behavior, and lowered overall life satisfaction and productivity," says
researcher Samuel Kuperman, director of the division of child psychiatry at the
University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, in a news release.
Researchers say the study was designed to better understand what factors
affect when children start experimenting with alcohol, and the results suggest
that a family history of alcohol abuse or alcoholism may not play a major role
in influencing age of first drink.
What Affects Age of First Drink?
In the study, researchers compared factors influencing age of first drink in
two groups of children aged 7 to 17: one group of 339 children from families
with a history of alcohol problems, and a comparison group of 101 children with
no family history of alcohol problems. Age of first drink was determined by the
response to the question, "How old were you when you had your very first
The results, published in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and
Experimental Research, showed that child and environmental factors were
much stronger predictors of age of first drink than a family history of alcohol
abuse or alcoholism.
Researchers found three factors explained 45% of the variance in age of
- Age at the time of the study interview (38%)
- The child's score on a behavior/conduct scale (6%)
- Number of alcohol-dependent siblings (0.5%)
Kuperman says no family history measures of alcohol dependence or antisocial
personality disorder were significant predictors of age of first drink.
"While there is a small contribution to the prediction of [age of first
drink] based on the number of adult siblings with alcohol dependence," says
Kuperman, "I believe this actually supports the belief that genetic loading
for alcohol dependence does not per se contribute to early [age of first
drink]. Having many siblings with alcohol dependence may somehow represent an
environment conducive to early drinking."
Researchers say the findings should build a better understanding of whether
the role of age of first drink does or does not play in affecting later
problems with alcohol in children and adolescents.