PRC Projects

Center Grant

Social Mechanisms of Early Alcohol and Substance Use Initiation and Progression to Problems
Component Directors: Sharon Lipperman-Kreda, Ph.D. and Joel Grube, Ph.D.


When and how young people start drinking alcohol can be a factor in determining whether they drink in ways that put them in immediate danger and whether they develop alcohol problems later.  Initiating drinking at an early age, especially drinking heavily, has been associated with negative outcomes including alcohol abuse and dependence, lower academic achievement, risky sex, assaults, traffic crashes, and other substance use.  How this happens however, is largely unknown.  One possible explanation is that young people are exposed to different drinking environments, including some that model heaving drinking and enable it.  In fact, some research suggests that early initiation to drinking may be due to environmental, rather than genetic or other predisposing factors.

This research project is designed to investigate the contribution of risky drinking environments to the development of early drinking and the progression to problems.  We will collect detailed descriptions of drinking locations and where and when early drinking, heavy drinking, and intoxication occur.  This will allow us to assess how the situations relate to the development of drinking, other substance use, and problems.

Research Goals and Activities

The study will do an initial survey data collection and six follow-up surveys over 3 years with 1,500 adolescents aged 12-16 years at the start of the project.  In addition to the surveys, we will perform interviews with 25 adolescents who initiated drinking at an early age.  This long-term study will help us understand whether and how drinking in specific places and situations contributes to use of alcohol over time and the development of alcohol-related problems among drinkers who start drinking at a young age.  This study will also help us to investigate why some youths who drink at an early age develop problems and some do not.

The long term goal is to identify effective interventions for specific groups, specific contexts, and specific alcohol use problems.  For example, by identifying early drinking contexts most closely related to the development of later problems, our results can make screening and brief interventions with early onset drinkers more effective so that we can prevent problems the result from alcohol use and misuse.