Objective. To compare early nondrinkers, experimenters, and drinkers on the prevalence of problem behaviors at grades 7 and 12 and at age 23 (N = 6338, 4265, and 3369, respectively).

Methods. Results are based on longitudinal self-report data from individuals who were originally recruited from 30 California and Oregon schools at grade 7 (1985) and assessed again at grade 12 (1990) and at age 23 (1995). Logistic regression was used to develop weighted estimates of the prevalence of academic difficulties, employment problems, substance use, and delinquent and violent behaviors within the 3 drinking status groups at grades 7, 12, and/or at age 23. Huber variance estimates, which adjust for weighting and clustering of observations, were used to assess the statistical significance of differences across groups.

Results. Early drinkers and experimenters were more likely than nondrinkers to report academic problems, substance use, and delinquent behavior in both middle school and high school. By young adulthood, early alcohol use was associated with employment problems, other substance abuse, and criminal and violent behavior.

Conclusions. Early drinkers do not necessarily mature out of a problematic lifestyle as young adults. Interventions for these high-risk youth should start early and address their other public health problems, particularly their tendency to smoke and use other illicit drugs.

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