In studies, younger age at first alcohol use has been associated with later alcohol problems in adult life, including heavy drinking and alcohol use disorder. That is the reason why around the world, as in the Netherlands, a key aim of alcohol policy is to postpone the age at first alcohol use. In a report published in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, researchers from the Netherlands have investigated whether age of drinking onset is a risk factor for alcohol intoxication among adolescents aged under 18 years.
The study was based on data collected between 2007 and 2017 in the Netherlands for the purpose of monitoring trends in pediatric hospital admissions for acute alcohol intoxication. Data from almost 5000 adolescents admitted for intoxication ─ for whom medical staff had logged additional information including age at first alcohol use ─ were analyzed retrospectively.
Among this group of adolescents, half had had their first alcoholic drink before age 15 years, and half when aged between 15 and 18 years. Those with earlier drinking onset were more often female, lower educated and raised in nontraditional family structures than those who started drinking later. Age at first alcohol use was significantly associated with age at hospitalization for intoxication. For those who started drinking at age 14 or younger, the average age at admission was 14.8 years, compared with 16.0 years for those with later drinking onset. The researchers showed that after adjusting for other factors that could influence the results, a year’s delay in drinking onset was associated with a 6 month increase in age at admission for intoxication.
The results suggest that interventions aimed at postponing first alcohol use could help reduce the risk of early acute intoxication, and provide further support for policies in the Netherlands and elsewhere that aim to delay drinking onset. The risk groups identified for young-onset drinking (girls with lower educational background a from nontraditional family set-up) could also help to target interventions to those most at risk.