February 24, 2011

Drinking Early Leads to Drinking Later

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Joseph V. Madia, MD By:

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Rutgers Alcohol Problem Index scores may be predictors of alcoholism

(dailyRx News) The Rutgers Alcohol Problem Index (RAPI) is used to evaluate adolescent drinking related problems. A new study shows that RAPI is not only an effective screening method but also a predictor of alcoholism.

RAPI is a survey that asks adolescents how often they have experienced any consequences of drinking alcohol. Specifically, it looks at 23 different consequences, including the inability to do homework; getting into a fight with a friend or family member; going to work or school drunk; and feeling withdrawal symptoms after stopping or cutting down on drinking.

According to Richard J. Rose, Professor Emeritus in psychology and brains science at Indiana University, this new study is the first to use adolescent RAPI scores to predict future diagnoses of alcoholism. It is also the first study, Rose continues to explain, to ask whether adolescent twin brothers and sisters who have different RAPI scores will have different alcohol dependencies in the future.

For the study, Rose and colleagues used RAPI to examine 597 18-year-old Finnish twins. When the twins reached 25 years of age, the researchers assessed their alcohol abuse and dependence diagnoses using the Semi-Structured Assessment of the Genetics of Alcoholism.

The principal finding of the study was that those who had more drinking-related problems at 18 years of age faced an greater risk of being diagnosed with alcoholism at 25 years of age. This relationship was stronger in females than males.

The predictive capabilities of RAPI mean that it can be used to identify late-adolescents who face a high risk of developing alcoholism in adulthood, says Matt McGue, a professor in the department of psychology at the University of Minnesota. However, he adds, this does not necessarily suggest that drinking problems in adolescence directly cause alcohol dependence later in life. Rather, it may reflect that adolescents who stray from social norms by drinking heavily are also like to stray from social norms in adulthood by drinking abusively.

The findings from this study have important implications for clinicians, says Rose. Through using RAPI, clinicians may be able to identify adolescents at risk of becoming alcoholics, and thus be able to begin intervention.

More than 17 million American adults (8.5 percent) have an alcohol abuse disorder. Abusive consumption of alcohol can not only cause problems in one's social life, but it can also lead to a variety of health problems, including liver disease. As a result of alcohol abuse, liver disease kills over 14,400 Americans each year.

This study will appear in the May 2011 issue of Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research.

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Reviewed by: 
Joseph V. Madia, MD
Review Date: 
February 18, 2011

Last Updated:
March 9, 2011