OBJECTIVE. To explore whether early age of drinking onset is prospectively associated with respondents unintentionally injuring themselves and others when respondents were under the influence of alcohol, controlling for current alcohol dependence/abuse, frequency of consuming 5 drinks per occasion, and other demographic characteristics.

METHODS. From 2001 to 2002, in-person interviews were conducted with a national multistage probability sample of 43 093 adults aged 18 years older. From 2004 to 2005, of 39 959 eligible respondents, 34 653 were reinterviewed. The cumulative 2-survey response rate was 70.2%. Respondents were asked the age at which they first started drinking (not counting tastes or sips), diagnostic questions for alcohol dependence and abuse, questions about behaviors that increase risk of injury, and whether respondents, when under the influence of alcohol, injured themselves or someone else as a driver in a motor vehicle crash or in some other way.

RESULTS. Logistic regression analyses revealed that the younger respondents were when they started drinking, the greater the likelihood that, between the 2 surveys, they experienced alcohol dependence/abuse, drank 5 drinks per occasion at least weekly drove under the influence of alcohol, and placed themselves in situation after drinking where they could be hurt. After controlling for those injury risk and sociodemographic characteristics, respondents who began drinking at earlier ages remained more likely between the 2 surveys to have, under the influence of alcohol, unintentionally injured themselves and someone else. More than one third of those injuries occurred when respondents 25 years of age were under the influence, although only 7% of respondents were 25 years of age. Persons other than respondents experienced 20% of those unintentional injuries, more than one third of them in traffic.

CONCLUSION. Delaying drinking onset may help reduce unintentional alcohol-related injuries that drinkers may inflict on themselves and others.

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