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There is No Such Thing as Controlled Drinking, Early Intoxication Turns Into Problem

Update Date: Aug 18, 2012 06:06 AM EDT

Contrary to the common belief that letting children drink at home under supervision promotes responsible drinking habits, a new study says that it might just have the opposite impact on children.

The study says that introducing adolescents to drinking before they turn 18 could put them at the risk of developing alcoholism later in life and could subject them to health risks.

The study from Yale University lead by Meghan Morean and her team conducted the study for duration of four years with 1,160 students who moved from high school to college. 

The participants were quizzed with questions pertaining to their first drinking experience, the frequency of drinking, and if they had any alcohol-related problems.

It was found that the earlier the children started drinking, the more they struggled to control their drinking habits by the time they reached college.

"As expected, beginning to use alcohol at an earlier age was associated with heavier drinking and the experience of more negative consequences during senior year of college. Quickly progressing from first alcohol use to drinking to intoxication was also an important predictor of heavy drinking and the experience of alcohol related problems during senior year of college," Morean said.

"For example, an adolescent who consumed his first drink at age 15 was at greater risk for heavy drinking and problems than an adolescent who took his first drink at age 17. Further, an adolescent who took his first drink at age 15 and also drank to intoxication at age 15 was at greater risk for heavy drinking and problems than an adolescent who had his first drink at age 15 and did not drink to the point of intoxication until he was 17," Morean added.

Previous studies have linked early age of first drink to outcomes including compromised brain development, drug abuse, cirrhosis of the liver and risky sexual behaviors, Mail Online reported.

While she said that more researches were required before concluding the association, she recommended teenagers to delay early drinking.

"The best way to prevent heavy drinking and the experience of alcohol-related problems is to prevent alcohol use. Therefore, our first recommendation would be to delay the onset of any alcohol use as long as possible. It is important to speak to children and adolescents openly about the dangers of heavy drinking and provide them with correct information, for example, 'how many drinks does an average male/female need to drink to exceed the legal level for intoxication," she said.

"It is also extremely important to remember that heavy drinking during adolescence and early adulthood is not confined to college campuses. Most adolescents begin drinking during high school, a significant portion of them begin drinking heavily. To help address this, we suggest that new alcohol prevention and intervention efforts targeting high school students be developed with the goal of delaying onset of heavy drinking among those at increased risk due to an early onset of drinking."

One needs to be at least 21-years-old before buying alcohol in the U.S. However, the age at which children start drinking at home is difficult to identify and control. 

Results of the study will be published in the November 2012 issue of Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research.

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