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Single glass of beer at age of 14 'can create a binge-drinker'

By John von Radowitz

A single glass of wine or beer at the age of 14 can help a young teenager along the path to binge-drinking, scientists have claimed.

Early alcohol experience is one of a wide range of factors that can be used to identify future binge-drinkers, new research has shown.

Others include personality traits such as risk and sensation seeking, family history, genetics and brain structure.

Combined together, scientists were able to predict who from a large group of 14-year-olds would be binge drinking by the age of 16 with 70% accuracy.

Having even a single alcoholic drink at the age of 14 was shown to be a "powerful" predictor of binge-drinking, possibly because of its association with risk-taking and impulsivity. Dr Hugh Garavan, from the University of Vermont in Canada, who co-led the study, said the vulnerable period between the ages of 14 and 16 was "critical" to a young person's future drinking behaviour.

"Just delaying people drinking by six months or a year is actually a very, very substantial intervention that would have vast beneficial consequences," he added.

A computer was used to analyse a wealth of data on more than 2,000 14-year-olds from England, Ireland, France and Germany. All were participants in IMAGEN, a major ongoing study of adolescent development.

The software looked for patterns that singled out those youngsters who went on to become binge-drinkers by the age of 16 – defined as having got drunk on at least three occasions.

Results were confirmed by predicting binge-drinking with the same accuracy in a separate group of teenagers. The findings appear in the latest issue of the journal Nature.

"Notably, it's not the case that there's a single one or two or three variables that are critical," said Dr Garavan. "The final model was very broad – it suggests that a wide mixture of reasons underlie teenage drinking."

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