New Research Identifies Risk Factors for Alcohol Misuse

Researchers from the University of Michigan conducted a study to determine what pre-existing factors present the highest risk for youth developing  alcohol dependency. The team examined data from 401 children for their three year-long study. The data was collected from the Michigan Longitudinal Study, a study aimed at identifying risk factors for substance misuse in vulnerable families. The participants were primarily male and 64 percent of the subjects had at least one parent who met the criteria for alcohol dependence. The average age of onset of drinking for the participants was 16. “Fifty-three percent of them had their first drink at the age of 14 or younger,” said the researchers. “By T7 (ages 21-23), 54% of the participants had met DSM-IV alcohol abuse diagnosis with the mean onset age at 17, while 23% had met DSM-IV alcohol dependence diagnosis with the mean onset age at 18.”

The researchers found several common risk factors and symptoms present in the participants. “Over 50% of the participants had experienced AD3 (larger/longer) and AD1 (tolerance) by the age of 23, whereas fewer than 20% had reported AA3 (legal problems), AD2 (withdrawal), and AD6 (activities given up),” said the researchers. They added, “Overall, 76% of the participants had developed at least one AUD symptom during the study period.”

The researchers emphasize the importance of their findings. “The risk of progression to alcohol dependence among male youth was 1.94 times the risk of female youth,” they said. “Among people who did not experience AA4 (social/interpersonal problems) as the first symptom, early onset drinkers tended to carry higher risk (2.26 times) than late onset drinkers.” The team concluded, “This study shows that the youth who experience AA4 (social/interpersonal problems) or AD1 (tolerance) as the first symptom tends to be at high risk for progression into alcohol dependence, conditional on important pre-cursive risk factors including being male, COA (children of alcoholics), an early onset drinker, and higher in delinquent behavior at drinking onset.”


Buu, A., Wang, W., Schroder, S. A., Kalaida, N. L., Puttler, L. I., & Zucker, R. A. (2011, August 15). Developmental Emergence of Alcohol Use Disorder Symptoms and Their Potential as Early Indicators for Progression to Alcohol Dependence in a High Risk Sample: A Longitudinal Study From Childhood to Early Adulthood. Journal of Abnormal Psychology. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0024926

© Copyright 2011 by By John Smith, therapist in Bellingham, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Paula


    August 18th, 2011 at 6:54 PM

    Dependence or addiction mostly happens when somebody does not enjoy their social life.Such people do not have too many friends and alcohol or substance becomes their BFF.Just going out and being with people,having a full time job and a few other things can go a long way in preventing this dependence.

  • no limit

    no limit

    August 19th, 2011 at 4:14 AM

    It is great that there are now all of these indicators that may show very early on in ones life whether he or she has a greater likelihood for developing a dependence on alcohol. I hope that these findings become useful as these kids get older and try to help prevent some of this from happening. I just hope that everyone remembers that genetics are a large part of this too and that sometimes that is something that is pretty difficult to overcome.

  • Minson


    August 19th, 2011 at 12:01 PM

    I think vigilant parents would prevent thesefactors or atleast keep an eye on their teen and see if there’s any such sign.

    Giving some time every day to your teen can go a long way.

  • Gwenn


    August 19th, 2011 at 10:34 PM

    See no evil, hear no evil, that is the mistake that too many people are making with their kids today. But evidence like this clearly shows us that this is a HUGE mistake. There are early indicators in their lives as to whether or not drinking could become a problem for them in the future. Why ignore that when you have the power to do something very significant for them? I think that there are way too many people who do not want to rock the boat or believe that this is something that could happen to them but it is and you better sit up and take notice while you have the chance.

  • S.S.


    August 20th, 2011 at 2:11 AM

    I feel I’m the only person in the country who knows how to drink responsibly. Heck, these days a freshman can go to a party and leave in a body bag because he drank himself to death. Go to any college and there will be a story of someone dying like that at least half a dozen occasions. All alcohol problems are caused by being irresponsible IMHO.

  • Russ Edward

    Russ Edward

    August 20th, 2011 at 6:37 PM

    The legal drinking age in many countries (not the US) or the age where you can buy alcohol is often 18. Even if the purchase age here is 21 (and not all states have laws that specifically prohibit underage consumption), people will think they can handle it at 18. Onset is at 17 and 18. There is no way that’s a coincidence. How many of those studied had any talks or lessons on how to drink responsibly instead of knocking back alcohol until they can’t stand up? None I bet.

  • Lane


    August 20th, 2011 at 6:48 PM

    There are some people who can drink a ton and it never will bother them, and then there are those who can’t even drink one glass of wine without it leading to a binge. Why is that? It has always kind of baffled me how some can handle it and some can’t. Maybe some are just hardwired to have a hard time processing alcohol and should just stay away from it altogether.

  • Y.M.


    August 20th, 2011 at 10:27 PM

    Alcohol is such a giant problem and for men, it’s even more of a risk to indulge according this study. Many crimes are linked to it, countless car accidents and hit-and-runs of innocent bystanders are linked to it, multiple deaths are linked to it, and what happens when you try to ban the poison? Protests and complaints about infringing on their civil liberties. What about the liberties of the victims you mowed down with your car??

  • cara


    August 22nd, 2011 at 4:07 PM

    Overall I feel that there is a huge disconnect between the what people perceive to be the damages that alcohol can create and the damages that it actually can cause. I think that most people, and especially the younger people, think that alcohol and drinking is all for fun and games and think very little about the serious consequences that can come along with alcohol abuse and misuse.

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