Are early puberty and early drinking age related? Researchers wanted to know the answer.
To do so, they studied 1,117 young people. They found that early onset of puberty predicts both early drinking and intoxication. And it does so among both males and females. It also predicts smoking, drug use, and both sex and unprotected sex at an earlier age. Among boys, early puberty predicts fighting and other aggressive behaviors.
The findings are consistent with mounting evidence that early age of drinking does not cause later alcohol-related problems. Instead, it appears that both are caused by earlier-occurring events or factors.
Early onset of drinking is often linked with later alcohol-related problems. Thus, many people confuse the correlation between the two with causality. They simply assume that early drinking causes later problems.
They make an false assumption. That is, keeping young people from drinking until age 21 will prevent later alcohol problems.
A federal agency (NIAAA) warns that early age of first drink may well not be the cause of later alcohol problems. It does so based on both logic and research findings.
The NIAAA stresses that both early onset of drinking and later alcohol-related may be caused by underlying personality factors. These are such things as impulsivity or sensation seeking. Or genetic factors could cause them.
For example, sensation seekingers may drink at an early age, have unprotected sex, gamble, drive recklessly, abuse alcohol, etc. Preventing them from engaging in any one of these things would have no effect on any of the others. Also, preventing early drinking would have no effect on a person’s genetic makeup. That might well be the cause of alcohol dependence or other problems.
Trained interviewers have rated children’s ability to control their impulses and behavior. In addition, their ability to flexibly adapt their self-control as needed (resiliency). This was done from the time children were between three and five years old. And then every three years thereafter until the children reached the age of 12 to 14.
The researchers found that low behavioral control and resiliency predicted the onset of alcohol and illicit drug use later.
Researchers found that age at first drink does not cause alcoholism. But it is linked with disinhibited behavior and psychopathology. Those who drink at an early age show these before they first try alcohol.
Researchers examined the the role of both genes and environment on the initiation of drinking among early adolescents. They used data to analyze almost almost 1,400 twins. The researchers found genetic factors to be the most important influence in the early initiation of drinking.
Of course, genetic factors may also cause later alcohol related problems.
Are early puberty and early drinking related? It appears they are. Thus, early puberty may be a cause. That is, one of those that causes both of early drinking and also of later drinking-related problems.
Resources: Early Puberty and Early Drinking Age
Early Onset of Drinking. What Research Says
Does Beginning to Drink at an Early Age CAUSE Later Alcohol Abuse?
Drinking Alcohol at an Early Age and Later Alcohol Problems
Genetics and Early Age of Drinking
Drinking at Young Age Doesn’t Cause Alcohol Abuse
Balkin, K. Alcohol. San Diego: Green, 2004.
Fitzgerald, H. and Puttler, L. Alcohol Use Disorders. NY: Oxford U. Press, 2018.
Saunders, J. and Rey, J. Young People and Alcohol. Chester, UK: Black, 2011.