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Risky Alcohol Use, Age at Onset of Drinking, and Adverse Childhood Experiences in Young Men Entering the US Marine Corps

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Journal article

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Problematic drinking behavior is a serious public health problem affecting every community, including the US military. To examine the association between current problematic underage drinking behavior with factors including adverse childhood experiences and drinking onset age. A retrospective cohort study of recruits at onset of Marine Corps training, from June 2002 to April 2005, using questionnaire data collected with the Recruit Assessment Program, which includes demographics, clinical and medical history, family history, psychosocial history, and substance abuse screens. Participants are 26 101 men aged 18 to 20 years 8013 identified as current problem drinkers, 7238 current non-problem drinkers, and 10 850 nondrinkers. Current problem drinkers identified by scoring system based on 10 questions. Among drinkers, early initiation of alcohol use was a powerful predictor of current problem drinking, with a nearly 3-fold risk if use of alcohol began at age 15 or younger. Other significant independent predictors included history of smoking, older age, small or rural hometown, education beyond high school, motivation to join the military for travel and adventure or to leave problems at home, growing up with a problem drinker or someone mentally ill, childhood emotional abuse, and having numerous close friends or relatives for support. A history of rape was significantly predictive, but not childhood physical or sexual abuse. When the comparison group included nondrinkers, additionally predictive factors included a history of witnessing domestic violence, experiencing parental divorce at a young age, and childhood physical abuse. Factors protective against problem drinking included being married, attending religious services weekly or more often, and reporting parental education as not completing high school.

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  • Psychology
  • Military Forces and Organizations

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