Early alcohol experience is one of a wide range of factors that can be used to identify future binge drinkers, new research has shown.
Others include personality traits such as risk and sensation seeking, family history, genetics and brain structure.
Combined together, they were able to predict who from a large group of 14-year-olds would be binge drinking by the age of 16 with 70 per cent accuracy. Having even a single alcoholic drink at the age of 14 was shown to be a "powerful" predictor of binge drinking, possibly because of its association with risk-taking and impulsivity.
Dr Hugh Garavan, from the University of Vermont in Canada, who co-led the study, said the vulnerable period between the ages of 14 and 16 was "critical" to a young person's future drinking behaviour.
"Just delaying people drinking by six months or a year is actually a very, very substantial intervention that would have vast beneficial consequences," he added.
A computer was used to analyse a wealth of data on more than 2,000 14-year-olds from England, Ireland, France and Germany. All were participants in IMAGEN, a major ongoing study of adolescent development.The software looked for patterns that singled out those youngsters who went on to become binge drinkers by the age of 16, defined as having got drunk on at least three separate occasions.