Does an early age of first exposure to alcohol increase the risk for alcohol abuse or dependence in later years?
The research literature suggests there is a link between early use of alcohol and abuse or dependency. Early exposure to alcohol is believed to enhance the risk of alcohol use and/or abuse later in life.
While adolescents frequently see the consequences of their choices in life rather quickly the choice of drinking alcohol at a young age does not always reveal the associated consequences in an immediate fashion.
Many adolescents are choosing a course with the potential to lead to future failure with their early use of alcohol. The Leadership to Keep Children Alcohol Free (LKCAF) reports that "each day, 7,000 kids in the United States under the age of 16 take their first drink".
Over the course of one year more than 2.5 million children in this country are choosing a path known for its potential to destroy lives. Research provided by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) further clarifies the dangers associated with an early exposure to alcohol in adolescents.
Drinking alcohol before the age of 15 increases the likelihood of an individual developing an alcohol dependency by four times. While the increased risk of developing alcohol dependency is not a matter to be taken lightly this increased risk is not the only negative effect of early alcohol use to which adolescents are subject.
The NIAAA also reports increased risk of motor vehicle accidents including those resulting in death, suicides, sexual assaults, and participation in high-risk sexual activities among adolescents involved with underage alcohol use.
Should we make a rush to judgment and assume every 14 year old that sneaks a can of dad’s beer out of the refrigerator to satisfy their natural curiosity is doomed to a life of addiction? Of course not. That would not be silly.
Many individuals are able to maintain a level of alcohol consumption typically referred to as "social drinking" (i.e. functional) throughout their entire lives regardless of when they were first introduced to alcohol.
The problem is we don't know which ones will be the "social drinker" and which one will be the "social abuser."
What we do know for sure is that the early adolescent brain is more vulnerable than the adult brain to disruption from alcohol.
Research has identified subtle but important brain changes occurring among adolescents with resulting in a decreased ability in problem solving, verbal and non-verbal retrieval, visuospatial skills, and working memory.