It is already commonly known that there is a clear association between early use of alcohol and short- and long-term adverse outcomes.
What is unclear is whether consumption of minor amounts of alcohol (less than a full drink) at a young age is prognostic of risk behaviors in later adolescence.
To find out the answer, research was conducted among 561 students enrolled in an ongoing prospective web-based study on alcohol initiation and progression.
The researchers looked at a combination of monthly and semiannual surveys, they coded whether participants sipped alcohol before sixth grade and examined associations between early sipping and alcohol consumption by fall of ninth grade, as well as other indices of problem behavior. Participants also reported on the context of the first sipping event.
According to a recent article in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, the researchers concluded that the prevalence of sipping alcohol by fall of sixth grade was almost 30 percent.
Study participants indicated that their first sip took place at their own home, and the primary source of alcohol was an adult, usually a parent.
Youth who sipped alcohol by sixth grade had significantly greater odds of consuming a full drink, getting drunk, and drinking heavily by ninth grade than nonsippers. These associations held even when researchers controlled for temperamental, behavioral, and environmental factors that contribute to proneness for problem behavior, which suggests that sipping is not simply a marker of underlying risk.
Researchers concluded that early sipping is associated with elevated odds of risky behaviors at high school entry dispute the idea of sipping as a protective factor.
Offering even just a sip of alcohol may undermine messages about the unacceptability of alcohol consumption for youth.