While it is not normative to initiate alcohol use prior to adolescence, substantial numbers of children do so. However, relatively little is known about the prevalence or predictors of alcohol initiation in childhood, compared to extensive research on adolescent initiation and alcohol use. The present study examines patterns and predictors of very early drinking initiation in childhood, focusing on child behavioral undercontrol and parent alcohol and drug use as time-varying risk factors across childhood, independent of sociodemographic background variables. Event history analyses model and predict the age of alcohol initiation across ages 4 to 11 in the ongoing Millennium Cohort Study. Methodological strengths include the prospective design initiated in infancy (prior to any alcohol consumption), multiple reporters, and large representative sample of children and parents (n = 11,355). Key predictors are child behavioral undercontrol and parent alcohol and drug use assessed across childhood. Weighted results show that <2% of children had their first drink of alcohol prior to their 8th birthday, rising to 13% by age 10–11 years. Odds of initiation are higher when parents rated children as behaviorally undercontrolled and when at least one parent in the household reported drinking alcohol and/or using illegal drugs, independent of sociodemographic group differences. Thus, an important minority initiated drinking during childhood, and there are key risk factors for early drinking. Increased focus on the epidemiology, etiology, and prevention of childhood drinking is needed.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
Authors were supported by grant R01AA019606 from the US National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) , and grant RES-579-0001 from the UK Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) . MCS data collection was supported primarily by grants from the ESRC. Measures of alcohol use at age 11 were supported by grant R01AA019606 from NIAAA. MCS data are deposited at the UK Data Archive by the Centre for Longitudinal Studies at the UCL Institute of Education. The funding agencies had no role in the study design, collection, analysis or interpretation of the data, writing the manuscript, or the decision to submit the paper for publication. All procedures performed were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards. At the age of 11 years, the project was overseen by the Yorkshire and Humber Research Ethics Committee (UK) and approved by the internal review board at the Pennsylvania State University. Parent informed consent was obtained before assent from early adolescents was sought.
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- Alcohol initiation
- Behavioral undercontrol
- Event history