Research shows that children who experience puberty earlier than their peers are more likely to begin drinking alcohol at a young age and early alcohol exposure is also known to be related to alcohol dependence later in life. Specifically, adolescents who mature early are two to three times more likely to drink than other youth. In addition, early maturing girls are two to three times more likely to drink until intoxication and three times as likely to have an alcohol use disorder. A new study examined why early developing 14-year-old adolescents are more likely to drink alcohol compared to those whose pubertal development is on-time or late. The findings show these adolescents are more likely to have peers who drink alcohol and are also given greater permission to drink by their parents.
The findings were published in a Child Development article, written by researchers at The Pennsylvania State University.
“Peer drinking and parent permissiveness explained a substantial percentage of the links between early puberty and alcohol use,” said Rebecca Bucci, doctoral candidate in the department of sociology and criminology at The Pennsylvania State University. “This is important because early alcohol exposure is known to be related to alcohol dependence later in life.”
The study included intergenerational, nationally representative data from over 11,000 adolescents (5,799 girls and 5,757 boys) in the United Kingdom followed since infancy in the ongoing Millennium Cohort Study (MCS). The current study relied on data collected when the children were aged 9 months, 7, 11, and 14 years. At age 14, adolescents self-reported information about the following:
- Alcohol use: Whether they had ever (in their lifetime) had a drink of alcohol. If yes, they were asked: frequency (3+ times in the prior year denoted frequent drinking given the seriousness of alcohol at age 14) and if they binge drank (consumed 5 or more alcoholic drinks at a time).
- Perceived Pubertal Timing: Girls and boys both reported on personal growth spurts, skin changes, and body hair for boys and girls. Gender-specific questions queried breast development and menstruation for girls and voice changes and facial hair for boys.
- Friend Risk Behavior: To assess risk factors from their peers, adolescents were asked about their friends’ drinking behavior, other-sex friends, and dating from age 11 to 14.
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