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Study links high schoolers’ alcohol consumption to heavier use as adults

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Teens who begin “high-intensity drinking” of alcohol by their junior year of high school are more likely to drink heavily as young adults, researchers at the University of Michigan say.

The researchers looked at survey data for 451 high school seniors, all of whom said they had recently drunk alcohol. The group was surveyed again at age 20 and were asked about when they first tried alcohol and participated in binge and high-intensity drinking.

Binge drinking was defined as four or more drinks for women and five or more drinks for men. High-intensity drinking meant eight or more consecutive drinks for women and at least 10 consecutive drinks for men. The researchers found that teens who were exposed to high-intensity drinking before 11th grade had higher average weekly alcohol consumption and frequency of high-intensity drinking as young adults. Meanwhile, the average time of escalation from first drink to high-intensity drinking was about two years.

“Waiting until college for intervention may be too late for some people because these patterns have already started for many of them,” said Megan Patrick, lead study author and professor in the U-M Institute for Social Research. “Additionally, young adults who do not attend college are often overlooked but are also in need of intervention resources.

“I think it’s important to be aware of when teens start drinking, and whether and how quickly they escalate to heavier drinking so we can appropriately target prevention and intervention efforts.”

The study was published online in JAMA Pediatrics.

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