MSUToday
Published: April 14, 2016

Underage girls more likely to take first drink than boys

Contact(s): Sarina Gleason Media Communications office: (517) 355-9742 sarina.gleason@cabs.msu.edu, Hui Cheng Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics office: 517-355-8623 chenghu2@msu.edu

A new Michigan State University study has found that mid-adolescent females are more likely to take their first alcoholic drink earlier in life compared to their male counterparts.

The findings could suggest that more attention should be paid toward girls between the ages of 12 and 17 years old who have already started to drink, which up until now, has been more of a public health concern among boys.

“Our findings didn’t show any age between this period of time where males were at a higher risk of taking the first drink,” said Hui Cheng, a postdoctoral fellow in epidemiology who led the study with mentoring from James C. Anthony, a professor in the College of Human Medicine.

Cheng mentioned that after the age of 18, there were no significant differences in this risk of becoming a new drinker between males and females.

The study, based on 12 years of national drug use surveys among 12- to 24-year-olds, focused on incidence rate, or the initial onset of drinking, as opposed to how often drinking takes place among a particular age group over a longer period time.

“In this study, participants were only asked to recall the past 12 months of their initial drinking behavior,” Cheng said. “Other research in the adult population has relied on participants having to remember their actions over a much longer time frame.”

Cheng said there could be many different factors that play into the reason why girls are more likely to start drinking earlier.

“Changing social norms related to gender equality could be playing into their decision,” Cheng said. “Girls may be feeling that they now have more equal status among their male peers.”

Other factors she said might include changes in their economic situation or different advertising messages from alcohol companies.

“These are all things that need to be looked at next, as well as how we can make prevention programs more widespread for girls.”

The study was recently published in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research.

Hui Cheng, a postdoctoral fellow in epidemiology at MSU, has found that mid-adolescent females are more likely to take their first alcoholic drink compared to their male counterparts earlier in life. Courtesy photo.

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