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J Stud Alcohol Drugs. 2013 Sep;74(5):703-13.

Causal influence of age at first drink on alcohol involvement in adulthood and its moderation by familial context.

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Department of Psychological Sciences, University of Missouri-Columbia, Columbia, Missouri 65211, USA



Previous research has established a connection between early age at drinking initiation and greater alcohol involvement in adulthood, but it has not yet been established whether this is a causal effect. The current study used a multilevel discordant twin design to examine individual and contextual effects, and an interaction between these effects, of the age at drinking initiation on the frequency and quantity of drinking in adulthood.


Participants were 4,194 same-sex twins (2,264 monozygotic, 1,924 dizygotic; 2,270 women; Mage = 29.9 years) from the Australian Twin Registry who completed a telephone interview that included assessments of the age at alcohol use initiation and past-year frequency and quantity of alcohol use. Multilevel models were estimated using data from the full sample and using data from only monozygotic twins. Individual (within-twin-pair comparison) and family contextual (between-twin-pair comparison) effects were estimated.


The age at first drink was related to the past-year frequency (r = -.16) and quantity of drinking (r = -.12) in young adulthood. Individual (causal) and family context effects of age at drinking onset predicted later adult drinking frequency and quantity. There was also a significant cross-level interaction between individual and family contexts for frequency but not quantity of drinking.


Results of this study indicate a potential causal effect of age at drinking onset on adult alcohol involvement as well as the importance of examining both individual and contextual effects in discordant twin studies.

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