Aim: To investigate longitudinally for both genders the relation between the age of onset of drinking and several indicators of alcohol use.
Design and setting: In the Finnish Jyväskylä Longitudinal Study of Personality and Social Development, data have been collected by interviews, inventories, and questionnaires. Data on alcohol consumption was gathered at ages 14, 20, 27, 36 and 42 years; behavioural data at age 8.
Participants: A total of 155 women and 176 men; 90.4% of the original sample consisting of 12 complete school classes in 1968.
Measurements: The age of onset of drinking was determined based on participants' responses that were closest to the actual age of onset of drinking. Four indicators of the adult use of alcohol were used: frequency of drinking, binge drinking, Cut-down, Annoyed, Guilt, Eye-opener (CAGE) and Malmö modified Michigan Alcoholism Screening Test (Mm-MAST). Socio-emotional behaviour at age 8 was assessed using teacher ratings and peer nominations.
Findings: Early onset of drinking was related to the four indicators of the use of alcohol in adulthood both in men and women. The level of adult alcohol use and alcohol problems was significantly higher in men. The risk for heavy drinking was highest in men and women if drinking was started at less than age 16 years. Socio-emotional behaviour and school success at age 8 did not predict the age of onset of drinking.
Conclusions: Delaying the initiation of drinking from early adolescence to late adolescence is an important goal for prevention efforts. No clear risk group for early initiators of drinking could be identified on the basis of preceding behaviour among 8-year-olds.