Young adults are more likely to be heavy drinkers if they took their first drink of alcohol at an early age and also had to cope with stressful life events, a new study suggests.

"We found that the impact of stressful life events on drinking behavior depends on the age at first drink," study first author Dorothea Blomeyer, a senior researcher at the Central Institute of Mental Health in Mannheim, said in a news release from Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research.

"The earliest [age at first drink] in our sample was 8 years; about half of the study participants had initiated alcohol drinking before they were 14 years old," Blomeyer said. "The earlier they start with alcohol use, the stronger the association between life stress and drinking in young adults. We found this interaction effect only for the variable 'total amount of alcohol,' not for the number of drinking days. This fits to the pattern of stress-related drinking, which is characterized by a higher number of drinks, and not so much by frequent drinking."

It's likely that people who start drinking at a very young age "learn to use alcohol in stressful situations during adolescence because research indicates that, during adolescence, drinking is particularly rewarding under stressful circumstances," Blomeyer said.

Source: U.S. News & World Report
http://health.usnews.com/health-news/family-health/brain-and-behavior/articles/2011/03/16/drinking-behavior-may-be-tied-to-early-alcohol-use