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.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Medicine (miscellaneous)
- Clinical Psychology
- Psychiatry and Mental health