A new study has discovered that women, who start drinking at a younger age are at a greater risk of becoming alcohol dependent.
During the study, researchers from Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis have found that women who were born before 1944 began drinking at age 20.
Those born after that started drinking alcohol at age 17, and they had a 50 to 80 percent greater risk for alcohol dependence.
"We had previously noted that women were catching up with men in their rates of drinking and alcohol dependence, and this earlier age at which they began drinking helps explain that finding," said Richard A. Grucza, Ph.D., assistant professor of psychiatry and first author on the study.
"An early age at the onset of drinking is a strong predictor of subsequent alcohol dependence. About one in three individuals who start drinking at age 17 or younger become alcohol dependent. For those who wait until age 21 or older, that number is one in ten," he added.
In a study conducted in April, Grucza's team found that women are catching up with men in alcohol use and dependence.
They found substantial increases in drinking and alcohol dependence among women born between 1944 and 1983, compared to those born between 1934 and 1943.
"Now we have found that women born during this 'high risk' period also began drinking earlier than their predecessors, and this earlier drinking might explain the higher rates of alcoholism.
As the age of drinking onset got lower for women, the rates of alcohol dependence increased," he added.
For the new study, the researchers compared data from two surveys of alcohol use: the National Longitudinal Alcohol Epidemiologic Survey, gathered in 1991 and 1992, and from the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions, which was compiled 10 years later.
Some previous studies have linked a genetic predisposition to alcohol dependence with early-age drinking, however, Grucza said that genetic changes alone can't explain the increases in alcohol dependence among women in this study.
"Since genes don't change over such a short of a period of time, genetics can't be the whole story," he added.
The new study will be published in the August issue of Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research and currently available at OnlineEarly.