New research findings may change the way we understand addiction.
Early Drinking, Worse Outcome
Signs of alcohol addiction first appear in early or middle adulthood, but new research tells us that the groundwork for addiction is established long before adulthood. New evidence indicates that the age when teens begin drinking has a big impact on whether they develop alcohol problems later in life.
- The King’s College London IMAGEN project found that kids who began drinking by age 14 were more likely to be binge drinking at age 16.
- Previous studies have found that binge drinking in adolescence leads to higher risks of alcoholism by age 25.
- Other research has suggested adult alcohol dependence can be decreased by as much as 10% for every year that alcohol consumption is delayed during adolescence.
- Negative life experiences increased the risk of drinking at age 14.
It turns out that the single most effective tool parents have to protect their kids from a life of alcoholism is to delay their exposure to alcohol for as long as possible. Since kids undergoing major life stressors are at highest risk, parental oversight to prevent drinking may be most important during major stressors.
Strikingly, preventing your teen from drinking as long as possible may also protect your grandchildren from addiction risks.
A study published in the Journal of Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research in 2011 showed that when male mice are given alcohol intermittently (simulating binge drinking), their offspring consume more alcohol as adults than offspring from 2 alcohol free parents.
Another study found that binge drinking alters brain structure and neuron density in key brain areas affecting learning and behavior.
The key for parents who want to protect kids form alcohol addiction: prevent your teen from drinking for as long as you can.
In an era where parents serve alcohol to teens at home in order to prevent drunk driving, these findings clearly indicate abstinence is a better plan.
And what if your teen is already drinking? Limiting exposure (as much as you can) is still the best strategy.
Coleman Jr, Leon G., et al. "Adolescent binge drinking alters adult brain neurotransmitter gene expression, behavior, brain regional volumes, and neurochemistry in mice." Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research 35.4 (2011): 671-688.
King’s College London IMAGEN project
Dr. Deuter is a psychiatrist who specializes in the care of emerging adults.