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Substance Abuse and Addiction Health Center

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Teen Drinking Brews Adult Trouble

Study Shows Teens Who Drink Heavily Are More Likely to Develop Alcoholism as Adults
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

Feb. 8, 2011 -- Older teenagers who are heavy drinkers are more likely than those who aren’t to develop drinking problems as adults, including alcoholism, new research indicates.

The researchers who analyzed the results of 54 studies, half of them done in the U.S., say more work is needed to determine the long-term consequences of drinking, and especially heavy drinking, by older teens aged 15 to 19.

The study is published in the journal PLoS Medicine.

“Late adolescent alcohol consumption appears a probable cause of increased drinking well into adulthood, through to ages at which adult social roles have been achieved,” the researchers write.

“Heavier drinking seems most likely, however, to be only one component in a complex causal process, whose contribution has probably been overstated in previous studies."

It is likely, they say, that reducing alcoholic intake in older teenagers may prevent long-term adverse consequences that may occur in adulthood as well as protecting against more immediate harmful effects.

Alcohol’s Heavy Toll

Such research would be important in part because alcohol is responsible for about 4% of the global burden of disease. This burden is higher in high-income countries among men, accounting for 11% of all male deaths in the World Health Organization’s European region in 2004.

There is particular concern about the effects of binge drinking among youths and its possible effects when teens become adults, according to the study.

An analysis of studies performed in Sweden suggests that late adolescent heavy drinkers had an increased risk of death at age 34 compared to moderate drinkers. The risk of death in heavy adolescent drinkers was twice as likely as for moderate drinkers, the researchers write, mainly due to car crashes and suicides.

When researchers analyzed studies assessing alcohol problems or dependence in adulthood, all showed a statistically significant association with late adolescent drinking.

The researchers say caution is required in reaching conclusions about the effects of late adolescent drinking because of the limitations of their analysis. They say most studies they analyzed were not strongly designed, and thus there is an “urgent” need for more research in the area “to better understand the public health burden that is consequent on late adolescent drinking, both in relation to adult drinking and more broadly.”

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