ST. LOUIS, June 2 (UPI) -- An early-age onset of drinking is a strong predictor of later alcohol dependence, Washington University School of Medicine researchers in St. Louis said.
"Previous work had found that about one in three individuals who reported having started drinking at ages 17 or younger also reported having been alcohol dependent, either currently or previously," explained Richard A. Grucza of Washington University School of Medicine said in a statement.
"For people who reported that they started drinking at age 21 or older, that number is one in 10. In other words, individuals who begin drinking at 17 or younger are more than three times more likely to develop alcohol dependence than those who begin at age 21 or older."
The researchers analyzed two large, national surveys -- the National Longitudinal Alcohol Epidemiologic Survey conducted in 1991 and 1992 and the National Epidemiological Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions conducted in 2001 and 2002.
The findings, published in the August issue of Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research and available online, found women born during 1944 to1983 began drinking earlier than their predecessors, and that this earlier drinking might explain the higher rates of alcohol dependence.