Background Research has consistently shown that early onset of drinking (EOD) is associated with alcohol-related problems in adulthood. However, recent reviews have identified several limitations in the early onset literature, including the use of retrospective reports, insufficient control for potential confounders, ambiguous definitions of the concept, and an assumption that early onset is independent of cultural norms and national alcohol policies. This study addresses these limitations by examining whether EOD, independent of early onset of excessive drinking (EOE), prospectively predicts hazardous drinking in late adolescence/young adulthood in Norway and Australia, two countries with different drinking cultures. Methods Data were drawn from two population-based longitudinal studies; the Norwegian Tracking Opportunities and Problems Study (n = 329) and the Australian International Youth Development Study (n = 786). Data were collected prospectively from mid adolescence (14–16 years) to late adolescence/young adulthood (18–25 years) and a modified Poisson regression approach was used to estimate prevalence ratios. Adolescent self-reports included measures of EOD and EOE. Young adults completed the Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test (AUDIT). The results were adjusted for adolescent factors; age, gender, impulsivity, hyperactivity, conduct problems, smoking, early sexual intercourse and friends’ substance use, and family factors; alcohol and drug use in the family, maternal education, family management and monitoring. Results Hazardous drinking was identified in 46.8 and 38.9% of young adults in Norway and Australia, respectively. Both EOD and EOE in adolescence were significantly related to an increased risk of alcohol-related problems in late adolescence/young adulthood in both studies, even when adjusting for possible confounders. Conclusion Our findings indicate that adolescent drinking behaviour is an indicator of alcohol-related problems in late adolescence/young adulthood, even when controlling for a variety of covariates. This finding is in contrast to previous research on older adults, where no association between adolescent drinking and later alcohol-related problems were found when controlling for covariates. The divergence in findings may suggest that the impact of EOD/EOE is limited to the late adolescent and young adult period. Preventing drinking in early adolescence may thus have some impact on the drinking patterns in late adolescence/young adulthood.
This item's license is: Attribution 4.0 International