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Alcohol problems more likely for young drinkers, report shows

WASHINGTON (BP)–Young people who begin drinking before
age 15 are four times as likely to develop alcohol
dependence, or alcoholism, than those who began at 21,
according to a report from the National Institute on Alcohol
Abuse and Alcoholism, a division of the National Institutes
of Health.
Alcohol abuse, described as a maladaptive drinking
pattern that repeatedly causes life problems, was more than
twice as likely to occur for those who began drinking before
15 than for those who began at 21, according to the report.
The report, released Jan. 14, was based on an
NIAAA-sponsored sample of nearly 43,000 interviews in 1992.
Of those who began drinking before 15, more than 40
percent were classified as alcohol-dependent at some time in
their lives, the study found. That finding contrasted with
24.5 percent for those who began drinking at 17 and about 10
percent for those who began drinking at 21 or 22. The report
found the risk for alcohol dependence decreased by 14
percent for each year of increase in the onset of drinking.
Meanwhile, the risk for alcohol abuse in a lifetime
decreased by 8 percent with each increasing year in the
onset of drinking. For those who were 14 when they began
drinking, 13.8 percent developed alcohol abuse, contrasted
with 2.5 percent for those who began drinking at 25 or
The report “adds new evidence about the need to regard
underage drinking as the serious problem it is,” said Donna
Shalala, secretary of the Department of Health and Human
Services, of which NIH is a division. “Our prevention
agencies, communities, businesses (especially the alcohol
beverage industry), schools and parents need to act together
and to tell our young people unequivocally and with one
voice that underage drinking is dangerous and wrong.”
Barrett Duke of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious
Liberty Commission said the solution to the problem includes
abstinence by adults, not just young people.
“I agree with Ms. Shalala’s assessment of the problem
and of the need for us to act quickly and in a comprehensive
manner in addressing youth drinking,” said Duke, the ERLC’s
director of denominational relations and its specialist on
alcohol issues.
“In addition, I would point out that this report is
just one more indication of the selfishness of our society.
It is heartbreaking to consider that a large segment of the
adult population is unwilling to eliminate an activity from
their lifestyle that is encouraging millions of our children
to risk their lives and futures. These children could not
even obtain alcohol if their parents or adult acquaintances
did not make it so accessible. It is time for adults to
acknowledge that children do as we do, not as we say. Until
then, we will continue to wring our hands over the plight of
our children as we persist in our own hypocrisy.”
On Capitol Hill, Rep. Joseph Kennedy, D.-Mass., has
introduced a nonbinding resolution in the House of
Representatives urging college and university presidents to
adopt guidelines intended to reduce heavy drinking by
students. The Collegiate Initiative to Reduce Binge
Drinking, H.R. 321, calls for each president to appoint a
task force consisting of administrators, faculty and
students to address the problem; enforce a “zero-tolerance”
policy for the unlawful consumption of alcohol; and
eliminate alcohol-related sponsorship of on-campus
Representatives may demonstrate their support by
signing onto the resolution. There will be no formal vote.
About 44 percent of college students qualify as binge
drinkers, according to the resolution.