A new US study shows that teens that get their first drink from a friend are more likely to start drinking earlier which puts them at an elevated risk for abusing alcohol in the future.
The research, which was let by a team from The University of Iowa, compiled information from 820 adolescents. They found that by 13, one third of teens had their first drink. By 16 that number climbed to half and at 18 70% of teens had been drinking.
"When you start drinking, even with kids who come from alcoholic families, they don't get their first drinks from their family," says Samuel Kuperman, a child and adolescent psychiatrist at the UI. "They get their first drinks from their friends. They have to be able to get it. If they have friends who have alcohol, then it's easier for them to have that first drink."
The research identified five key areas that put teens at a greater risk of drinking. The first two were disruptive behaviours, another key indicator was a family history of alcohol dependence, poor social skills and whether a teens best friends drank alcohol.
Of these five, the most important was the drinking habits of best friends. Teens who had a best friend that drank and had access to alcohol were twice as likely to have a first drink, no matter what their age.
"Family history doesn't necessarily drive the age of first drink," notes Kuperman, who has studied teen drinking for more than a decade. "It's access. At that age (14 or 15), access trumps all. As they get older, then family history plays a larger role."
"There's something driving kids to drink," explains Kuperman. "Maybe it's the coolness factor or some mystique about it. So, we're trying to educate kids about the risks associated with drinking and give them alternatives."
This means it is very important for parents to be aware of who their children associate with. While other factors like family history can affect drinking habits later in life, young teens are most likely to try alcohol with friends.
Currently, the researchers are trying to understand how many of those teens who try alcohol early go on to develop a drinking problem later in life.