A new Georgia State University study shows that youth who begin
drinking before the age of 13 are at a higher risk of suicidal behavior
compared to non-drinkers.

Research shows that alcohol and drug education classes have reduced the
reporting of suicide attempts. Other factors like friends’ disapproval,
familial environment, and mental health also play a role in attempt
reduction.

“There are a lot of resources being spent on drug and alcohol abuse
education, and while we can’t test the impact of that per se, it was
interesting to note that adolescents who received the education were
less likely to attempt suicide,” said Monica Swahn, who conducted the
study.

Swahn is associate dean for research in the College of Health and Human
Sciences. Others who facilitated the study are Jeffrey Ashby and Joel
Meyers, professors of counseling and psychological services, and Robert
M. Bossarte, assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of
Rochester.

The data for the study came from a survey of 150,000 Georgia students
in 6th, 8th, 10th, and 12th grades. The study shows that about 15% of
students in grades 8, 10, and 12 reported that they began drinking
before the age of 13.

Gender differences also became factors when researchers examined the
reduced likelihood of suicide attempts. Friends’ disapproval of
drinking was much more effective in reducing use for girls, while adult
disapproval was much more effective in reducing use for boys. On the
other hand, friends’ disapproval of drinking for boys was ineffective,
and adult disapproval of drinking for girls was also ineffective.

The exact reasons for why suicidal behavior exists in preteens who
drink alcohol remains unknown to researchers, but fundamental factors
may exist, said Swahn.

“The kids who start drinking early probably have problems in other
parts of their lives, such as family dysfunction, mental health and
anxiety, with family environment being the biggest driver,” she said.

This study, as well as future research, will help aid educators in addressing the problem of youth alcohol abuse.

“We want to see if there is something we can do to break that path
toward other adverse health outcomes,” Swahn said. “Norms and attitudes
are something that we can shift, in a way that maybe family dysfunction
and other things are going to be much harder to do.”
 

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