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Teenage Drinking Can Spell Lasting Trouble
Date:9/21/2007

The earlier kids abuse alcohol, the more likely it is to persist, experts say,,

FRIDAY, Sept. 21 (HealthDay News) -- Parents sometimes look upon teen drinking as a harmless rite of passage. But new research suggests it has a darker side, one that can last a lifetime.

"Not only are people who start to drink at a younger age more likely to develop [lifelong] alcohol dependence, but they are more likely to be injured, to be in motor vehicle crashes and to be in fights," said Ralph Hingson, director of the U.S. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism's division of epidemiology and prevention research.

"Many people regard alcoholism as a middle-age person's problem," he added. "But you can develop quite severe problems when you are quite young."

Hingson led a study, published recently in the journal Pediatrics, in which his team found that early dependence on alcohol often meant continued trouble with drinking later in life.

In their study, Hingson and his colleagues analyzed the results of a survey done in 2001 and 2002 by the U.S. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. The survey included interviews with more than 43,000 people over the age of 18.

Next, Hingson's team focused on just the 4,778 people who appeared to have been alcoholics at some time in their lives.

Of those who were ever alcohol-dependent, 15 percent appeared to become dependent before age 18, the researchers found, and 47 percent became hooked before the age of 21. In all, two-thirds became dependent before age 25.

"We were the first to report [in a previous study] that the younger people are when they start, the more likely they are to develop alcohol problems," Hingson said. "That's why it's so important to identify the problem among young people."

Echoing Hingson's advice, in early March the U.S. Surgeon General's Office issued a "call to action" on underage drinking
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