Many studies have demonstrated that early age of drinking onset is one of the strongest predictors for the development of alcohol-related problems. However, the mechanisms underlying the development of early use remain unclear. Early onset of alcohol use and problem use are associated with other risky behaviors including other drug use, driving while under the influence, sexual risk taking, and co-occurring difficultie, such as school failure, aggression, and problems with the law. Most previous research has focused on more proximal influences of adolescent drinking. This ignores two significant time periods, gestation and early childhood, when the earliest predictors of alcohol use can be identified. We have a unique opportunity to use data from two longitudinal cohorts (combined n = 1176) that have followed children from gestation through adolescence to explore factors during gestation and early childhood that predict early use and problem use of alcohol. Data points include gestation and five additional time points: birth, childhood, and late childhood, early adolescence and later adolescent years in both cohorts. Measures from these cohorts will be used to define early adversity. We will explore aspects of early adversity and the consequences of early adversity on alcohol use and abuse among adolescence. Measures of early adversity will include exposure to prenatal alcohol and other substances, maternal psychological status during pregnancy, offspring exposure to child maltreatment, and sociodemographic factors including maternal age. In early childhood, measures of the environment, maternal psychological status, substance use, and environmental measures will be evaluated. We will define the associations between early adversity and early alcohol use, patterns of alcohol use, and problem drinking among adolescents. We will also model the associations between these early risk factors, the consequences of early exposures, and the effects on drinking during adolescence. Data from adolescence will allow us to explore the interactions of early and more proximal factors, and the pathways from early characteristics to alcohol use and abuse. The findings from the proposed analyses will contribute to the development of targeted prevention strategies that can be focused in early life to reduce adolescent drinking and drinking problems.

Public Health Relevance

Early onset of alcohol use and problem use are associated with a number of short- and long-term behavioral problems. Understanding mechanisms that predict this use is critical to reducing these problems. Most previous research has focused on more proximal influences of adolescent drinking and has limited data on the earliest predictors of alcohol use. Understanding mechanisms from the earliest life phases can lead to implementation of successful prevention strategies to reduce underage drinking and improve the mental and physical health of our population.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA)
Research Project (R01)
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Special Emphasis Panel (ZRG1-RPIA-N (09))
Program Officer
White, Aaron
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University of Pittsburgh
Schools of Medicine
United States
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Hardaway, Cecily R; Cornelius, Marie D (2014) Economic hardship and adolescent problem drinking: family processes as mediating influences. J Youth Adolesc 43:1191-202