Age of alcohol use initiation, suicidal behavior, and peer and dating violence victimization and perpetration among high-risk, seventh-grade adolescents

Monica H Swahn, Robert M Bossarte, Ernest E Sullivent
Pediatrics 2008, 121 (2): 297-305

OBJECTIVE: We examined the cross-sectional associations between reports of an early age of alcohol use initiation and suicidal ideation, suicide attempts, and peer and dating violence victimization and perpetration among high-risk adolescents.

METHOD: Data were obtained from the Youth Violence Survey conducted in 2004 and administered to all public school students enrolled in grades 7, 9, and 11/12 (N = 4131) in a high-risk school district in the United States. Our analyses were limited to seventh-grade students who either began drinking before the age of 13 or were nondrinkers, with complete information on all covariates (n = 856). Cross-sectional logistic and multinomial logistic regression analyses were conducted to determine the associations between early alcohol use and each of the 6 outcome behaviors (dating violence victimization and perpetration, peer violence victimization and perpetration, suicidal ideation, and suicide attempts) while controlling for demographic characteristics and other potential confounders (ie, heavy episodic drinking, substance use, peer drinking, depression, impulsivity, peer delinquency, and parental monitoring).

RESULTS: In our study, 35% of students reported alcohol use initiation before 13 years of age (preteen alcohol use initiators). Students who reported preteen alcohol use initiation reported involvement in significantly more types of violent behaviors (mean: 2.8 behaviors), compared with nondrinkers (mean: 1.8 behaviors). Preteen alcohol use initiation was associated significantly with suicide attempts, relative to nondrinkers, controlling for demographic characteristics and all other potential confounders.

CONCLUSIONS: Early alcohol use is an important risk factor for involvement in violent behaviors and suicide attempts among youths. Increased efforts to delay and to reduce early alcohol use among youths are needed and may reduce both violence and suicide attempts.

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