A study in the United States found a link between the age at which young people have their first drink and alcohol dependence in later life. Children under the age of 15 were at greater risk of developing a taste for alcohol after being exposed to drink than older teenagers, the study found. The results challenge the belief that giving youngsters small amounts of wine at home will enable them to grow up with a more mature attitude to drink.
Social factors such as poverty and abuse may explain why many young people turn to drink early and develop a dependency in later life. But the study by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAA) suggested that exposure to alcohol itself, whatever the reason, could lay the foundations for a drink problem.
Scientists suggested that giving children alcohol during early adolescence, when the brain is more malleable as it is developing fast, could act as a "trigger" for those with a predisposition to addiction. "We can see for the first time the association between an early age of first drink and an increased risk of alcohol use disorders that persists into adulthood," said Dr Deborah Dawson, a researcher at the NIAAA.
The study examined the age at which 22,000 young people first tasted alcohol. They were divided into three groups: those who had their first drink under the age of 15, those who did so between 15 and 17 and those who waited until they were 18 or over. Those in the first category showed a greater disposition to alcohol related problems in later life.