Types of Alcohol Use Experience From Childhood Through Adolescence

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  • John E. Donovan, Ph.D. - University of Pittsburgh
  • Brooke S.G. Molina, Ph.D. - University of Pittsburgh

Published: June 11th, 2013in The Journal of Adolescent Health

Report Intro/Brief:
There have been few reports of the development of alcohol involvement from childhood through adolescence. We examined the ages at which children first sipped or tasted alcohol, drank, had three or more drinks in a row, had five or more drinks in a row, were drunk, or had alcohol problems, to describe the types of drinking experience exhibited at each age from 8.5 through 18.0 years. Sipping and three or more drinks per occasion have been understudied to date.

We collected 14 waves of longitudinal data from 452 children aged 8 or 10 years, randomly sampled from Allegheny County, Pennsylvania. Ages of initiating each alcohol use behavior were determined, and the data were coded to reflect the child's status on each behavior at each age. We determined types of alcohol use experience using latent class analyses.

From age 8.5 to 12.5 years, there were two latent classes: abstainers and sippers. The percentage of sippers increased to 67% by age 12.5 years. From ages 13.0 to 18.0, we identified three latent classes: abstainers, sippers/light drinkers, and drinkers with drunkenness. At ages 13.5–15.5 years, drinkers in the latter class reported drunkenness with just three to four drinks per occasion. By age 18 years, sippers/light drinkers comprised 55% of the sample and drinkers with drunkenness comprised 38%.

Childhood experience with alcohol was surprisingly widespread. Sipping or tasting alcohol was common by age 12 years. A quarter of the sample drank before age 15 years. Experience of intoxication increased throughout adolescence, even among those who had ever consumed just three to four drinks on an occasion."
-from the abstract of the report