Study Says Young Drinking Underestimated

September 7, 2007

About one in 10 4th-graders have had more than a sip of alcohol and 7 percent have had a drink during the past year, according to researchers who say that prevention programs, parents and teachers should not overlook drinking among elementary-school children.

A research review by John E. Donovan, Ph.D., of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center revealed that, “While the numbers are small in the 4th grade, the surveys show that the percent of children who have used alcohol increases with age, and doubles between grades four and six.”

“The largest jump in rates occurs between grades five and six,” according to Donovan.

Donovan did say that the numbers of young drinkers has been declining, “but the numbers are still alarming because of the connection between early alcohol consumption and negative outcomes later during both adolescence and young adulthood. It is this linkage that argues most strongly for preventing alcohol use prior to adolescence,” he said.

While alcohol use among adolescents gets a lot of attention, Donovan said that research on drinking by younger children often goes unpublished or is overlooked.

“Knowing how many children have had experience with alcohol would serve as an indicator of the number potentially at risk for later use of marijuana and other illicit drugs,” he said. “Childhood use of alcohol also predicts involvement in alcohol problems, alcohol abuse and dependence in both adolescence and adulthood. And early drinking relates to a variety of other problems, including absences from school, delinquent behavior, drinking and driving, sexual intercourse and pregnancy.”

The report was published in the September 2007 issue of the journal Prevention Science.

When available, links to the sources are provided above.