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Alcohol Consumption Debut: Predictors and Consequences

Willy Pedersen, Anders Skrondal

Objective: The aim of this study was to investigate the predictors of the timing of alcohol consumption debut and to analyze possible associations between the timing of debut and later alcohol consumption and possible alcohol-related problems. Method: A population sample of 465 adolescents (249 girls) from the greater Oslo area was followed up through five data collections over a 6-year span. By means of generalized structural equation modeling--accommodating survival variables--parental and friends' influences on debut age were estimated. Further, the consequences of the age of debut on subsequent alcohol consumption and alcohol problems were studied, taking other influences into consideration. In particular, possible gender differences were investigated. Results: The mean age for alcohol consumption debut was 14.8 years. The age of alcohol debut had an independent effect on both future alcohol consumption and the development of alcohol-related problems, and the effects were invariant across sex. According to the estimated model, a 10% delay in debut age will lead to a 35% decrease in subsequent expected alcohol consumption. Conclusions: Alcohol debut was an excellent predictor of subsequent alcohol consumption and alcohol problems. The strong preventive implication is that interventions should be implemented in order to postpone alcohol debut age. A weak implication is that preventive measures should be implemented for the early onset drinkers. Further, it seems to be important to give high priority to more thorough studies on the exact nature of the relationships we have investigated here. (J. Stud. Alcohol 59: 32-42, 1998)