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Alcohol Initiation Experiences and Family History of Alcoholism as Predictors of Problem-Drinking Trajectories

Lynn A. Warner, Helene R. White, Valerie Johnson

Objective: The purpose of this study was to identify developmental trajectories of problem drinking from adolescence into young adulthood and to determine if alcohol use initiation experiences and family history of alcoholism, as well as their interactions, would predict trajectory group membership. Method: Five waves of data were collected from respondents who were 12 years old at the time of recruitment to the Rutgers Health and Human Development Project and followed until age 31 (n = 438). A standardized measure of problem drinking (Rutgers Alcohol Problem Index) was used to develop trajectories with growth-mixture modeling. Differences across groups in firstuse experience (age of onset, pleasantness of the experience, and feeling intoxicated), a family history of alcoholism, and gender were analyzed with chi-square and analysis of variance tests, and logistic regression analyses were used to estimate the odds of group membership. Results: Three trajectory groups of drinkers were identified: no or low problem (66.2%), adolescence-limited problem (ALP; 21.6%), and escalating problem (EP; 12.1%) drinkers. Age at drinking onset, feeling drunk during the first alcohol experience, and family history of alcoholism were associated with significantly greater odds of being in a problem trajectory group relative to the no or low problem trajectory. Early experiences did not differentiate the ALP and EP trajectories. None of the interactions was significantly associated with membership in any of the groups. Conclusions: The levels and patterns of problem drinking during early to mid-adolescence point to a need for secondary prevention efforts that target problematic users in addition to the current emphasis on primary prevention of alcohol consumption. Prevention-based research may benefit from special focus on the meaning and consequences of self-perception of drunkenness when alcohol is first used. (J. Stud. Alcohol Drugs 68: 56-65, 2007)