Fran Lowry

April 13, 2015

MIAMI — Symptoms of social phobia in children may be a harbinger of adolescent alcohol use, a new study suggests.

"Social phobia seems to be a risk factor for alcohol use in kids, but it's not just social phobia at one point during childhood, it's the escalation in symptoms of social phobia over time that seems to predict alcohol use later in adolescence," lead researcher Jennifer Dahne, from the University of Maryland, in College Park, told Medscape Medical News.

"Perhaps if we intervened sooner to help these children, we might be able to lessen their chances of drinking in their teenage years, which is a particularly problematic time to start drinking," Dahne said.

The findings from her study were presented here at the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) Conference 2015.

The researchers analyzed data from an ongoing longitudinal study of a community sample of 277 children who were 11 years old at the time they entered the study. Half of the children were male, half female; they were followed for 5 years.

The children received a battery of tests, including the social anxiety subscale from the Revised Child Anxiety and Depression Scale, to determine any social phobia symptoms, Dahne said.

Overall, children who had more symptoms of social phobia at age 11 were more likely to use alcohol at earlier ages than their peers who were without symptoms of social phobia (odds ratio [OR], 1.37; P < .001).

Jennifer Dahne

In addition, elevated social phobia symptoms in a prior year predicted increased odds of alcohol consumption during the following year (OR, 1.41; P < .001).

"Very shy children whose shyness keeps them from engaging with other kids may benefit from early intervention," Dahne said.

"Early intervention is important. We see problematic alcohol use in these children start to emerge at around age 15. When they are 18 to 21, they're entering college. We want to try to nip that problematic alcohol use early, so we need to get to them sooner," she said.

Commenting on the findings for Medscape Medical News, Tanja Jovanovic, PhD, from Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia, noted its remarkably large sample size and unique look at predictors of alcohol use in young children.

Dr Tanja Jovanovic

"The importance of that is to enable us to identify risk factors for substance abuse disorders, because we know that adolescence is a sensitive time for substance abuse disorders to begin," said Dr Jovanovic.

"I agree with the authors that it's very important to identify these risk factors and then think of intervention strategies that can be applied at those early time points to prevent substance abuse, because substance abuse is one of the more debilitating public health issues that we see."

Jennifer Dahne and Dr Jovanovic report no relevant financial relationships.

Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) Conference 2015. Abstract 0.90. Presented April 10, 2015.


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