Study Links Drinking and Accidents

By LINDSEY TANNER, AP Medical Writer

CHICAGO (AP) - People who began drinking while underage are up to three times more likely to get hurt in car crashes and other alcohol-related accidents than those who started at 21 or older, a study found.

The national survey of 42,862 adults offers another sobering argument against underage drinking.

``Parents don't appreciate that alcohol is the No. 1 drug of abuse of kids,'' said Dr. Mary Dufour, deputy director of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. ``They say, `Well, he's only drinking.' This is yet another reason why they need to pay attention and why kids need to pay attention.''

The findings appear in Wednesday's Journal of the American Medical Association.

Boston University researcher Ralph Hingson and colleagues examined data from a 1992 NIAAA survey of randomly selected adults age 44 on average. About half said they had started drinking before age 21.

Accidental alcohol-related injuries were more common in youth as well as in adulthood among people who started drinking before age 21. The accidents included car crashes, burns and serious cuts.

The researchers theorized that people who start drinking at young ages ``may be less fearful of injury and situations that pose risk of injury.'' They may even derive pleasure from taking such risks, the authors said.

Car accidents and other unintentional injuries are the leading cause of death for adolescents and young adults.

Others studies have shown that underage drinkers are more likely to become alcoholics.

Dr. Henry Kranzler, a psychiatry professor at the University of Connecticut, said the findings fall in line with previous research suggesting that early-onset alcoholism differs from the disease in older people and is associated with more psychiatric, legal and antisocial problems.

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