Incipient alcohol use in childhood: Early alcohol sipping and its relations with psychopathology and personality

Ashley L. Watts, Phillip K. Wood, Kristina M. Jackson, Krista M. Lisdahl, Mary M. Heitzeg, Raul Gonzalez, Susan F. Tapert, Deanna M. Barch, Kenneth J. Sher

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


Prior research has shown that sipping of alcohol begins to emerge during childhood and is potentially etiologically significant for later substance use problems. Using a large, community sample of 9- and 10-year-olds (N = 11,872; 53% female), we examined individual differences in precocious alcohol use in the form of alcohol sipping. We focused explicitly on features that are robust and well-demonstrated correlates of, and antecedents to, alcohol excess and related problems later in the lifespan, including youth- and parent-reported externalizing traits (i.e., impulsivity, behavioral inhibition and activation) and psychopathology. Seventeen percent of the sample reported sipping alcohol outside of a religiously sanctioned activity by age 9 or 10. Several aspects of psychopathology and personality emerged as small but reliable correlates of sipping. Nonreligious sipping was related to youth-reported impulsigenic traits, aspects of behavioral activation, prodromal psychotic-like symptoms, and mood disorder diagnoses, as well as parent-reported externalizing disorder diagnoses. Religious sipping was unexpectedly associated with certain aspects of impulsivity. Together, our findings point to the potential importance of impulsivity and other transdiagnostic indicators of psychopathology (e.g., emotion dysregulation, novelty seeking) in the earliest forms of drinking behavior.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1338-1350
Number of pages13
JournalDevelopment and Psychopathology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 18 2021


  • alcohol sipping
  • novelty seeking
  • personality
  • precocious alcohol use
  • psychopathology


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