A factor frequently studied for alcohol abuse and its negative outcomes is starting to drink at an early age, but researchers now suggest that how quickly teenagers move from the first drink to drinking heavily is also an indicator of who may be susceptible to binge drinking.

“Efforts to distinguish between age of first alcohol use and progression to heavy use as risk factors for heavy drinking have important implications for prevention efforts,” said Dr. William Corbin, Director of Clinical Training of Arizona State University’s psychology department.

In the study published in the October online issue of Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research, researchers surveyed 295 adolescent drinkers with an average age of 16. The students completed an anonymous survey with questions seeking information on when they first tried alcohol, if they had ever been intoxicated, if they ever participated in binge drinking, and their alcohol use over time.

Conclusions of the study could help expand prevention programs to include teens who drink, to help in preventing them from becoming binge drinkers. “To help address the prevalence of heavy drinking during high school, we would suggest that new alcohol prevention and intervention efforts targeting high school students be developed with the goal of delaying drinking onset and onset of heaving drinking among those at increased risk,” said Dr. Megan E. Morean. Dr. Morean is the assistant professor of psychology at Oberlin College, Ohio and adjunct assistant professor of psychiatry at Yale School of Medicine.

Among the students surveyed who had already tried alcohol, a significant percentage had yet to drink to intoxication. Both Corbin and Morean recognize the importance of parental involvement to delay their children’s use of alcohol for as long as possible. “Parent’s efforts to delay drinking to intoxication may be helpful in reducing their child’s long-term risk for negative outcomes associated with early drinking,” Morean added.

Here are some ways to help prevent binge drinking:

– Speak openly with your kids on the dangers of binge drinking.
– Give your kids information on the risks associated with binge drinking.
– Know where your kids are and who they are with.

Corbin encourages parents to take action if you learn about alcohol use with your teenager. “Acting quickly and decisively in this situation may help delay progression of heavy use, potentially altering the long-term trajectory of alcohol use for these adolescents,” he said.