Problem drinking at age 18 may predict trouble later. (Adam Altan / AFP / Getty Images )
Drinking problems in adolescence may be passed off as "just a phase" that a person may outgrow. But a study suggests instead that problem drinking in someone at age 18 helps predict alcoholism at age 25.
A questionnaire called the Rutgers Alcohol Problem Index is used to assess drinking-related problems among teenagers. In the new study, researchers looked at whether those scores predicted anything about the future drinking behavior of a person. They assessed 597 Finnish twins at age 18 using the questionnaire. They then interviewed the same people at age 25 with a different measure to assess alcohol abuse and dependence.
The people who were experiencing drinking-related problems at 18 -- which included things like getting into a fight or having school problems due to alcohol use -- were more likely to be diagnosed with alcoholism at age 25. The link was stronger in females than males. Overall, the study found there was a 74% chance that adolescent scores were higher among people diagnosed with alcoholism at age 25 than for those who were not. Because the study involved twins, the researchers were able to rule out factors such as the parents' drinking and socioeconomic factors.
The researchers said they could not explain why some people who scored high for drinking-related problems on the questionnaire at 18 did not become alcohol dependent and others did. But that does not undermine the value of the measurement tool, they said.
"Identifying adolescents at high risk for alcohol dependency is an obvious, important priority," the authors wrote.
The study was published Tuesday in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research.
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