Just one glass of wine at 14 can lead to alcohol problems
JUST a single glass of beer or wine at the age of 14 can give youngsters a harmful relationship with alcohol.
A major study of 14-year-olds in Ireland and three other European countries was able to predict, with a 70pc rate of accuracy, who would be binge drinking by the age of 16.
The study, featured in science journal 'Nature', looked for patterns that singled out teenagers who went on to become binge drinkers, defined as getting drunk on at least three separate occasions.
It found that personality traits such as risk and sensation seeking, family history, genetics and brain structure play a role in a young person's relationship with alcohol in later life.
It also revealed that bigger brains are associated with future binge drinking, due to their link with immaturity.
Adolescent brains undergo significant rewiring during puberty and it is normal for them to reduce in size.
Co-author of the study Dr Hugh Garavan, from the University of Vermont, Canada, said the vulnerable period between the ages of 14 and 16 was "critical" to future drinking behaviour.
Mr Garavan said: "Just delaying people drinking by six months or a year is actually a very, very substantial intervention that would have vast beneficial consequences."
Head of the Department of Public Health and Primary Care at Trinity College Dublin Dr Joe Barry said: "The general evidence is that the brain develops fully by about the age of 22 or 23.
"The later you can delay someone starting to drink towards that age, the better.
"It's a matter of regulation, and it's really a child-protection issue when you're talking about 14-year-olds."
Chief executive of Alcohol Action Ireland Suzanne Costello said that while parents often thought it was a good idea to introduce their children to alcohol early, "the earlier you start, the more likely you are to have a harmful relationship with alcohol".
The study included more than 2,000 14-year-olds across Ireland, England, France and Germany.