Parents who encourage their children to drink alcohol at home and during meals before they turn 18 are increasing their risk of becoming alcoholics later in life.

A study from Yale University has found the younger people are when they have their first drink, the more likely they are to drink heavily as adults with all the health consequences.

Lead author Meghan Morean and her team studied over 1,000 students over a four-year period from high school to university and found those that starting drinking in school would struggle to control how much they drank at university.

Morean said: "As expected, beginning to use alcohol at an earlier age was associated with heavier drinking and the experience of more negative consequences during senior year of college [university].

"Quickly progressing from first alcohol use to drinking to intoxication was also an important predictor of heavy drinking and the experience of alcohol related problems during senior year of college. For example, an adolescent who consumed his first drink at age 15 was at greater risk for heavy drinking and problems than an adolescent who took his first drink at age 17."

Morean said previous studies had found the same link between an early age of first drink and negative alcohol-related outcomes including compromised brain development, drug abuse, cirrhosis of the liver and risky sexual behaviours.

However, she said that while there is a clear association, more research is needed to see if drinking early directly causes the negative outcomes.

She added: "It is important to speak to children and adolescents openly about the dangers of heavy drinking and provide them with correct information, for example, 'how many drinks does an average male/female need to drink to exceed the legal level for intoxication?'.

"Most adolescents begin drinking during high school, a significant portion of whom begin drinking heavily. To help address this, we suggest that new alcohol prevention and intervention efforts targeting high school students be developed with the goal of delaying onset of heavy drinking among those at increased risk due to an early onset of drinking."

Full results of the study will be published in the November 2012 issue of Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research.

Posted 17/08/2012 by richard.hook@pavpub.com