Adolescents' first drink tied to alcohol-related problems in adulthood
Adolescents who have their first drink during puberty are more likely to develop frequent drinking habits later in life, results from a new study show.
“Common thinking in alcohol research was that the earlier adolescents begin, the more deleterious become their drinking habits,” study researcher Miriam Schneider, PhD, of the University of Heidelberg in Germany, said in a press release. “However, a closer look at the statistics revealed a peak risk of alcohol use disorders for those beginning at 12 to 14 years of age, while even earlier beginners seemed to have a slightly lower risk.”
The longitudinal study included 283 participants, with 131 males and 152 females. Participants were interviewed at 19, 22, and 23 years of age, using a questionnaire to assess number of drinking days, amount of alcohol consumed, and level of hazardous drinking. The data were supplemented by an additional animal study, which measured the voluntary ethanol consumption of 20 rat subjects at puberty and later in life.
Results showed that the male participants who began drinking after puberty exhibited only 45% to 75% of the alcohol use measured in the pubertal drinking group (P=.029), and post-pubertal drinking females reached 49% to 86% of their pubertal drinking counterparts’ later in life alcohol consumption (P=.046). The rat trial yielded similar results. Rats that were exposed to alcohol during puberty consumed more alcohol as adults than adult rats that were introduced to alcohol during adulthood (P=.002).
“Puberty is a very critical developmental period due to ongoing neurodevelopmental processes in the brain. It is exactly during puberty that substances like drugs of abuse — alcohol, cannabis, etc. — may induce the most destructive and also persistent effects on the still developing brain, which may in some cases even result in neuropsychiatric disorders, such as schizophrenia or addictive disorders. Prevention work therefore needs to increase awareness of specific risks and vulnerability related to puberty,” Schneider said.
Disclosure: The researchers report no relevant financial disclosures.