A Sip? Drunk Minor? Not Ok

Underage drunkenness is a greater predictor of problem behavior than underage tasting

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) The debate about whether behavioral problems can be caused when minors have the occasional sip of alcohol continues. The tipping point may be the first time teens get drunk, and not when they have their first drink.

A recent study looked at 44,801 teens in 38 countries. Each teen was asked about his or her first sip of alcohol, first time to get drunk and five different behavioral issues.

“We found that early drunkenness was a risk factor for various adolescent problem behaviors at 15 years of age rather than an early age of first drink,” said the lead author.

"Be honest with kids about alcohol damage to their bodies."

Emmanuel Kuntsche, PhD, senior scientist at the Research Institute of Addiction in Switzerland, was the lead author of this study on early drunkenness versus first time to drink alcohol in relation to behavioral problems.

For the study, 44,801 teens, from an existing World Health Organization study involving 38 different North American and European countries, were evaluated at the age of 15 between 2005-2006.

Researchers looked at age of first drink (AFDrink) and age of first drunkenness (AFDrunk) in relation to five problem behaviors: smoking, marijuana use, injuries, fights and poor grades.

A total of 80 percent had consumed alcohol by the age of 15. The average AFDrink was 12.94 years. The average AFDrunk, of those who had experienced drunkenness, was 13.18.

In the US specifically, 52 percent had consumed alcohol.

In regards to smoking, teens that had never been drunk averaged 1.17 times in the last month compared to 7.64 times for teens that had been drunk at least once.

For marijuana use, teens that had never been drunk averaged 0.26 times in the last year compared to 2.99 times for teens that had been drunk at least once.

For injuries, teens that had never been drunk averaged 0.63 times in the last year compared to 0.9 for teens that had been drunk at least once.

For fights, teens that had never been drunk averaged 0.5 times in the last year compared to 0.99 for teens that had been drunk at least once.

There was a small, but not significant difference in academic grades between groups.

Dr. Kuntsche said, “People/parents should not panic when they become aware that a child/young adolescent has taken one sip or glass of any alcoholic beverage.”

“They should simply explain to the underage person that this is an inappropriate behavior because, for example, alcohol consumption is problematic for the developing brain”

“We believe that future research should focus on the problems behind early drunkenness rather than on the AFDrink per se.”

“Prevention efforts need to focus on impending early drunkenness in order to prevent subsequent harm during adolescence and beyond.”

This study was published in December in Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research.

Funding for research was supported by the Swiss Federal Office of Public Health.

No conflicts of interest were reported.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
December 14, 2012
Last Updated:
December 18, 2012