Those who get drunk for the first time before their fifteenth birthday are more likely to die prematurely than people who do not drink excessively or at least avoid getting drunk until they are older, a US study suggests.
Scientists believe early drinking may increase a person’s risk of suffering a life-threatening alcohol abuse disorder in later life.
Lead author Dr Hui Hu from the University of Florida, said: ‘Early onset of drinking and drunkenness are associated with alcohol use disorders and therefore may play a role in elevated alcohol use disorder-related mortality rates.’
Other experts add excessive alcohol-consumption at a young age can increase a person’s ‘risk-taking behavior’ and lead to mental health issues.
Researchers from the University of Florida analyzed the drinking habits and death records of almost 15,000 adults, who were followed for three decades.
The researchers examined data from the early 1980s that asked the participants if they had ever been drunk and how old they were when it first occurred.
At the time of the interviews, most participants were aged between 18 and 44-years-old.
Compared to study participants who said they never got drunk, those who did so at least once before they turned 15 were 47 percent more likely to die during the study period.
Getting drunk at 15 or older increased the risk of death during the study by 20 percent.
Some 61 percent of the study’s participants said they had been drunk at some point, with around 13 percent of first-time cases occurring before they turned 15.
Of those who got drunk young, around 37 percent were suffering from an alcohol abuse disorder at the time of the interviews, compared to 11 percent of abuse sufferers who did not get intoxicated until they were older.
By the end of the study, 26 percent of those who got drunk young had died, compared to 23 percent of those who got drunk later and 19 percent who had never been inebriated.
Excessive drinking at a young age is thought to be linked to alcohol abuse in later life.
Dr Hu said: ‘Early onset of drinking and drunkenness are associated with alcohol use disorders and therefore may play a role in elevated alcohol use disorder-related mortality rates.’
Yet alcohol addiction may not be the only factor contributing to young drinkers’ early death risk.
Dr Hu said: ‘We found that an estimated 21 percent of the total effects of early drunkenness were mediated through alcohol use disorders, suggesting that many other factors in addition to alcohol use disorders may play important roles.’
Dr Michael Criqui, a public health researcher at the University of California, San Diego, who was not involved in the study, said: ‘We know that alcohol abuse leads to earlier mortality, but it is also possible that earlier abuse reflects other genetic or environmental characteristics that lead to earlier mortality.’
Early drunkenness may point to other factors such as risk-taking behavior, mental health issues or a lack of social or economic support that influences health and longevity, noted Dr. Gregory Marcus, a researcher at the University of California, San Francisco, who was not involved in the study.
Dr Marcus said: ‘No one should interpret these data to mean that their fate is sealed.
‘On the contrary, these findings are useful exactly because they may help us identify those at risk so we can prevent these adverse outcomes.’
Yet Mr Joy Bohyun Jang of the institute for social research at the University of Michigan, who was not involved in the study, added that the study demonstrates an early mortality risk exists even among people without alcohol addiction, which all drinkers should be aware of.
He said: ‘Those with alcohol use disorders may receive attention to their alcohol use behaviors by practitioners or they themselves may be cautious about their alcohol use.
‘But what this study tells us is that those without alcohol use disorder may need the same level of attention if they experience drunkenness early in their life.’