- Early Drinking Increases Lifetime Injury Risk
September 29, 2000
Ralph Hingson, Sc.D., and other researchers at the
Boston University School of Public Health reported in the September 27
issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association that the
younger people are when they begin drinking the more likely they are to be
injured later in life when under the influence of alcohol. Those who start
drinking before age 14 are 12 times more likely to be injured than those
who begin drinking at or after age 21. After adjusting for history of
alcoholism, family history of alcoholism, and other characteristics
associated with early onset drinking, the researchers found that people
who begin drinking before age 14 are about three times more likely than
those who begin drinking at or after age 21 to be injured while drinking.
"This analysis shows that for each year under age 21 that drinking
onset is delayed, risk for later life injury diminishes," said Enoch
Gordis, M.D., Director, National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and
Alcoholism. The NIAAA reported in 1998 that early drinking onset is
associated with increased lifetime risk for the clinical disorders alcohol
dependence (alcoholism) and alcohol abuse.
Finding the reasons for these associations is a focus of continuing
NIAAA research. "What is clear now--and grows clearer with each new
scientific report--is that young people and their parents need to be aware
of both short- and long-term risks of adolescent drinking," said Dr.
The source of the data for both the alcohol disorder and the
injury-risk analyses was the National
Longitudinal Alcohol Epidemiologic Survey (NLAES), conducted in 1992
for NIAAA by the U.S. Bureau of the Census to assess drinking practices
and effects among adult Americans. The most comprehensive survey of
alcohol use ever conducted, NLAES involved 42,862 face-to-face interviews
of Americans 18 years of age and older. Reports from the NLAES data
(published in 1998 as Drinking in the United States*) continue to
provide the epidemiologic basis that guides research and informs public
Dr. Hingson’s analysis for the injury risk study was supported by the
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and used NLAES data. The
NLAES will be repeated in 2002 as the National Epidemiologic Survey of
About 66 percent of the 1992 NLAES sample reported having ever consumed
alcohol, 49 percent had their first drink before age 21, and 3 percent had
their first drink (defined as the first full drink of alcohol excluding
tastes or small sips) before age 14. About 15 percent of the 27,081 NLAES
respondents who had ever consumed alcohol reported having been at some
time in their lives in a drinking situation that increased the risk of
injury; 3 percent had been in such a situation in the past year. Of the
respondents who had ever consumed alcohol, about 8 percent had been
injured after or while drinking and about 3 percent had been injured
during the past year.
Unintentional injury (including motor vehicle crashes, falls, drownings,
burns, and unintended gunshot wounds) claimed 94,331 lives in 1998 and is
the leading cause of death for persons aged 1-34 years. Approximately
one-third of unintentional injuries are estimated to be alcohol-related.
"Our report shows that younger age of drinking onset is associated
with frequent heavy drinking later in life--not only for persons who are
alcohol dependent but also for other drinkers. This is part—but not
all—of the reason that early drinking heightens the injury risk for
persons both above and below the legal drinking age," said Dr.
"These findings provide important information for physicians and
other health care providers to share with their adolescent patients."
Dr. Hingson will present his findings at 1:00 p.m. today at the
National Press Club, First Amendment Room, at the kickoff of the Mothers
Against Drunk Driving National Youth Summit to Prevent Underage Drinking.
For reprints of the article or for interviews with Dr. Hingson, please
telephone 617/638-5160 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org. For interviews with
Dr. Gordis, telephone NIAAA Press at (301/443-0595). For additional
information about the Youth Summit or to follow the proceedings, visit
www.madd.org/nys. *For additional alcohol research information, please