Early life predictors of alcohol-related attitudes among 11-year-old never drinkers

Abstract Alcohol-related attitudes are evident before children have personal experience drinking alcohol and represent key proximal predictors of alcohol use, but relatively little is known about how early life characteristics predict these attitudes. Among late childhood lifetime alcohol abstainers (Mage = 10.67 years; 51% girls), we examine predictors of positive alcohol expectancies and perceived risk of alcohol use. Data from the Millennium Cohort Study, an ongoing nationally representative longitudinal study of children born in the UK, were available from 11,097 children who completed the self-report survey at modal age 11 and reported never drinking alcohol. A sequential structural model suggested that sociodemographic factors were distal predictors of age 11 alcohol attitudes that operated, in part, through family and child risk factors (measured at ages 3 to 7). Alcohol attitudes varied by sociodemographics; for example, boys had higher positive expectancies than girls and White British children had higher positive expectancies and lower perceived risk than Black British and Asian British children. In terms of family factors, parent alcohol problems predicted children's lower perceived risk, and higher parent-child conflict predicted more positive expectancies. For child factors, children's greater cognitive skills predicted higher perceived risk, and internalizing problems predicted more positive expectancies. Indirect effects from sociodemographics through parent-child conflict and internalizing problems predicted positive expectancies; indirect effects through parent alcohol problems and cognitive skills predicted perceived risk. Future research should delve further into mechanisms underlying the development of alcohol attitudes and their potential as malleable targets for prevention.