Progression from First Drink, First Intoxication, and Regular Drinking to Alcohol Use Disorder: A Comparison of African American and European American Youth

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Differences between African Americans (AAs) and European Americans (EAs) in the prevalence and age at onset of alcohol use and alcohol use disorder (AUD) have been documented, but distinctions in the timing of early stage transitions and contribution of various psychiatric and psychosocial risk factors to the progression from initiation to AUD have yet to be investigated. The current study characterized progression from alcohol use initiation—defined alternatively as first drink, first intoxication, and regular drinking onset—to AUD in AA and EA youth.


Psychiatric interviews were administered via telephone to 1,461 participants (56% AA, 44% EA) in a high-risk family study (50.3% female, mean age = 17.6 [SD = 3.8]). Cox proportional hazards regression analyses were conducted separately for the AA and EA subsamples to predict DSM-5 AUD as a function of age at alcohol use initiation, with age at first drink, age at first intoxication, and age at regular drinking onset as the point of origin in separate models.


Across race/ethnicity, regardless of how it was measured, early alcohol use initiation predicted AUD, but hazard ratios (HRs) were lowest for first drink. Regular smoking and social anxiety disorder were significant predictors in both racial/ethnic groups, but associations with conduct disorder (all 3 models: HR range = 2.07 to 4.15) and major depressive disorder (regular drinking: HR = 4.51, confidence interval [CI]: 1.60 to 12.69 for AUD onset ≥ age 20) were specific to AAs. Posttraumatic stress disorder (HR = 5.38, CI: 1.44 to 20.08) and generalized anxiety disorder (HR = 7.35, CI: 2.31 to 23.34 for AUD onset ≤ age 17) were strongly associated with progression from regular drinking to AUD exclusively in EAs.


Early alcohol use initiation is a marker of risk for AUD in both AA and EA youth, but the contributions of various psychiatric risk factors to the development of AUD are not universal across racial/ethnic groups.

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