Early Puberty and Early Drinking Age (Are They Related?)

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 early consumption of alcohol 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 characteristics.

Common Assumption

Early onset of drinking is often associated with later alcohol-related problems. Thus, many people to confuse the correlation between the two with causality. They simply assume that early drinking causes later problems.

They make an incorrect assumption. That is, keeping young people from drinking until age 21 will prevent later alcohol problems.

Warnings

early puberty and early drinkingThe National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (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 evidence.

The NIAAA stresses that both early onset of drinking and later alcohol-related may be caused by underlying personality characteristics. These are such as impulsivity or sensation seeking. Or genetic factors could cause them.

early puberty and early drinkingFor example, sensation-seeking personalities may drink at an early age, engage in unprotected sex, gamble, drive recklessly, abuse alcohol, etc. Preventing them from engaging in any one of these behaviors would have absolutely no effect on any of the others. Similarly, preventing early drinking would have no effect whatsoever on a person’s genetic makeup. That might well be the cause of alcohol dependence or other problems.

Accurate Predictions

early puberty and early drinkingTrained interviewers have rated children’s ability to control their impulses and behavior (behavioral control) and to flexibly adapt their self-control to environmental demands (resiliency). This was done from the time children were between three and five years old. And 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 in adolescence.

Non Causal

Researchers found that age at first drink is not causally associated with alcoholism. However,  it is associated with a wide range of indicators of disinhibited behavior and psychopathology. Individuals drank at an early age show high rates of disinhibitory behavior and psychopathology before they first try alcohol.

They concluded that age at first drink and risk or alcoholism is a non causal association.

Genetics

early puberty and early drinkingResearchers at the University of Amsterdam in The Netherlands examined the the role of both genes and environment on the initiation of drinking alcohol among early adolescents. They used data from the Netherlands Twin Registry to analyze almost almost 1,400 twins. The researchers found genetic factors to be the most important influence in the early initiation of alcohol consumption.

Of course, genetic factors may also cause later alcohol related problems.

Summary

Are early puberty and early drinking related? It appears they are. Thus, early puberty may be an earlier-occurring event. That is, one of those that causes both early drinking and also later drinking-related problems.

Resources: Early Puberty and Early Drinking Age

Web Pages

Early Onset of Drinking: What Research Says

Does Beginning to Drink at an Early Age CAUSE Later Alcohol Abuse or Other Problems?

Drinking Alcohol at an Early Age (Early Onset of Drinking) and Later Alcohol Problems

Genetics and Early Age of Drinking

Drinking at Young Age Doesn’t Cause Alcohol Abuse

Readings

Balkin, K. Alcohol: Opposing Viewpoints. San Diego: Greenhaven, 2004.  

Fitzgerald, H. and Puttler, L. Alcohol Use Disorders: a Developmental Approach. NY: Oxford U. Press, 2018.   

Saunders, J. and Rey, J. Young People and Alcohol. Chester, UK: Blackwell, 2011.