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The Earlier the More? Differences in the Links Between Age at First Drink and Adolescent Alcohol Use and Related Problems According to Quality of Parent-Child Relationships

Emmanuel Kuntsche, Haske van der Vorst, Rutger Engels

Objective: Various studies reported associations between age at first drink (AFD) and later problem behaviors. However, the nature and strength of these associations are less clear. The present study investigates differences in the links between AFD and later alcohol use and the ones between alcohol use and later drinking problems, based on quality of parent-child relationships. Method: Structural equation models were estimated based on a three-wave, 2-year prospective study of 364 adolescents. Results: AFD measured at Time 1 was related to drinking quantity at Time 2, which was related to alcohol-related problems at Time 3. However, the significant links between AFD and later alcohol use existed solely among adolescents who reported high-quality relationships with their parents. More specifically, compared with all other adolescents, only those who had a late AFD and a high-quality relationship with their parents were found to have low levels of alcohol use at Time 2 and low levels of alcohol-related problems at Time 3. Conclusions: By promoting a high-quality relationship, prevention efforts might trigger a spiral of healthy developments during adolescence, including family well-being in early adolescence, late AFDs, lower alcohol-use levels, and eventually fewer alcohol-related problems in late adolescence. (J. Stud. Alcohol Drugs 70: 346-354, 2009)