Longitudinal effects of age at onset and first drinking situations on problem drinking

Subst Use Misuse. 2003 Dec;38(14):1983-2016. doi: 10.1081/ja-120025123.


The purpose of this study was to describe aspects of the first alcohol-use experience, and examine the predictive relations among age of first use, context of alcohol use initiation, and problem drinking with and without controls for psychosocial risk factors. Data were from the Rutgers Health and Human Development Project, a five-wave, prospective study of substance-use behaviors in a community sample. Respondents, who were first interviewed at age 12 (1979-81) and most recently at age 30 or 31 (1999-2000) (N=371), reported on their first drinking experience, and on a range of known risk factors for alcohol abuse. Most alcohol initiation occurred during a family gathering. Regardless of initiation context, youth who drank at an early age were more likely than youth who initiated later to become problem drinkers, although the risk was relatively greater for the youth who first drank outside a family gathering. Based on multivariate logistic regressions, feeling drunk at initiation was the only onset-related variable significantly associated with problem drinking; other significant risks factors included male gender, delinquency, and family history of alcoholism. Because most initiation occurs at a family gathering, alcoholism prevention research may benefit from examining the role that drinking in family contexts could play with regard to socializing young drinkers to less risky drinking behaviors in adulthood. In particular, further research focusing on the subjective effects experienced by youth when they first drink may be merited.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adolescent Behavior / psychology*
  • Adult
  • Age of Onset
  • Alcohol Drinking / epidemiology
  • Alcohol Drinking / psychology*
  • Alcoholism / epidemiology*
  • Alcoholism / psychology
  • Child
  • Family / psychology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Logistic Models
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • New Jersey / epidemiology
  • Parent-Child Relations
  • Risk Factors
  • Sex Factors
  • Social Behavior
  • Social Environment*