In an alarming trend, the proportion of men in India who start to drink alcohol in their teens has surged more than threefold over the past few decades, a new study has warned.
The trend is more likely among those living in urban areas and poorer households, researchers said.
Researchers questioned just under 2000 randomly selected 20-49 year old men from rural and urban areas in Northern Goa about the age at which they first started to drink alcohol, how much they drank, and whether they had sustained any injuries as a result of their drinking.
Levels of psychological distress were also assessed using a validated questionnaire (GHQ).
"The proportion of men who started drinking in their teens rose from 20 per cent for those born between 1956 and 1960 to 74 per cent for those born between 1981-85 - a more than threefold rise," according to the findings by Aravind Pillai from Mailman School of Public Health, Columbia University and colleagues.
Consistent with studies from high-income countries, this study found that starting to drink alcohol during the teenage years was associated with a greater likelihood of developing lifetime alcohol dependence, hazardous or harmful drinking, alcohol related injuries, and psychological distress in adulthood.
Teen drinkers were more than twice as likely to be distressed and alcohol dependent as those who did not start drinking early in life, researchers found.
And they were three times as likely to have sustained injuries as a result of their drinking.
In India, alcohol consumption and its harmful effects are emerging as a major public health problem, the researchers said, suggesting that the trend is "alarming."
Researchers conclude that their findings highlight the importance of generating public awareness about the hazards of starting to drink early in life, and of enforcing regulations designed to limit underage drinking.
The study was published in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health.