Common wisdom would say “definitely true,” but the answer is “false,” according to a new study conducted by the Norwegian Institute for Alcohol and Drug Research and published in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs. Researchers interviewed 1,800 Norwegian teens about how often they got drunk when they were between 14 and 17 years old in the 1990s, and then again in 2005, when they were between 27 and 30 years old.
The findings? Twenty-seven-year-olds who reported drinking too much barely drank, or didn’t drink at all, when they were teenagers. Stockholm University sociologist and study co-author Thor Norström told the Dagens Nyheter newspaper that this was “surprising because previous research gave the impression that those who drink a lot in their teen years are the ones who have alcohol problems later in life.”
Norström said the study shows that campaigns to discourage teen drinking are not effective in the long run, as teens who heed the warnings and stay away from alcohol nevertheless are at risk for having alcohol problems later in life.
I’m not sure I agree with this assumption. Not every teen who stays away from drinking does so because of anti-drinking campaigns. I didn’t drink until college for a number of reasons, none of which had to do with public ad campaigns: 1) A history of alcoholism in my family left me fearful of alcohol’s effects, 2) I have a cautious temperament and didn’t want to lose control, 3) It was easier to do what I’d always done and stay sober, since I enjoyed life without drinking.
Lots of people I know who drank as teens got it out of their system, and by the time they graduated from college, they were sick of drinking. This doesn’t describe everyone, of course, but it could account for some of the findings in this study.
The takeaway for me, from this study is this: It’s never too late to develop an alcohol problem, and parents of hell-raising or experimental teens can take some comfort in the fact that early drinking does not necessarily predict their teen’s downfall.