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Research Summary

Early Drinking Increases Later Risky Behaviors in Urban Youth

Early alcohol use can contribute to later sexual and alcohol-related risk behaviors. To examine this association among urban youth—a group with a high prevalence of sexual risk behaviors—researchers surveyed 1034 African American and Hispanic students from Brooklyn. Subjects completed questionnaires in the 7th grade and then again in the 10th grade. Analyses were adjusted for some potential confounders (e.g., age, ethnicity, early sexual initiation).

  • In the 7th grade, approximately 25% of students reported ever drinking alcohol; 9% reported drinking in the past month.
  • In the 10th grade, prevalence of use greatly increased: 63% reported ever drinking alcohol and 29% reported drinking in the past month.
  • Students who had drunk in the 7th grade (versus those who had abstained) were more likely in the 10th grade to report alcohol use, binge drinking, drunkenness, and having an alcohol or drug problem.
  • They were also more likely to report a greater number of sexual partners, unprotected sex, pregnancy, and being drunk or high during sex. Female students who had drunk during the 7th grade were also more likely in the 10th grade to report having had sex.


Although analyses were not adjusted for psychosocial risk factors, the results confirm the dangers of early alcohol use. The high prevalence of drinking in 7th graders suggests that screening and prevention programs must begin well before the teenage years. These programs should emphasize alcohol's influence on risky sexual behaviors and related consequences, including exposure to HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases.

Joseph Conigliaro, MD, MPH


Stueve A, O'Donnell LN. Early alcohol initiation and subsequent sexual and alcohol risk behaviors among urban youths. Am J Pub Health. 2005;95(5):887-893.