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Childhood Risk Factors for Early-Onset Drinking

John E. Donovan, Brooke S. G. Molina

Objective: There is relatively little research on the childhood antecedent predictors of early-onset alcohol use. This study examined an array of psychosocial variables assessed at age 10 and reflecting Problem Behavior Theory as potential antecedent risk factors for the initiation of alcohol use at age 14 or younger. Method: A sample of 452 children (238 girls) ages 8 or 10 and their families was drawn from Allegheny County, PA, using targeted-age directory sampling and random-digit dialing procedures. Children and parents were interviewed using computer-assisted interviews. Logistic regression analyses were used to examine the age-10 univariate and multivariate predictors of the initiation of alcohol use by age 14 or younger. Results: Twenty-five percent of the sample reported having more than a sip or a taste of alcohol in their life by age 14. Sex, race, and age cohort did not relate to early drinking status. Children with two parents were less likely to initiate drinking early. Early initiation of drinking related significantly to an array of antecedent risk factors (personality, social environment, and behavioral) assessed at age 10 that reflect psychosocial proneness for problem behavior. In the multivariate model, the variables most predictive of early-onset drinking were having a single parent, sipping or tasting alcohol by age 10, having parents who also started drinking at an early age, and parental drinking frequency. Conclusions: Initiation of alcohol use by age 14 reflects childhood psychosocial proneness to engage in problem behavior as measured by Problem Behavior Theory and having a family environment conducive to alcohol use. (J. Stud. Alcohol Drugs, 72, 741751, 2011)