Pints Before Puberty Makes Risky Adults

Alcohol abuse higher in adults who started drinking before finishing puberty

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Teens that start drinking before their bodies finish developing may wind up with a few bad drinking habits later in life. It’s no wonder there are laws prohibiting teens from drinking.

In a recent study, researchers questioned a group of 23-year-olds about when they had their very first alcoholic beverage and how much and how often they had drank in the past month.

The results of the study showed that people who started drinking before finishing puberty were more likely to have hazardous drinking habits than people who started drinking after finishing puberty.

"Talk to your kids about dangers of underage drinking."

Dorothea Blomeyer, PhD, from the Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Psychotherapy at the University of Heidelberg in Germany, led an exploration into the associations between when adolescents began to drink and the risk for later alcohol abuse.

Previous studies have shown that early initiation of alcohol consumption may be a risk factor for later development of alcohol abuse and dependence.

The human brain continues to develop and change throughout adolescence. During puberty, the brain undergoes major changes in the areas in charge of personality, decision-making, behavior, emotions, motivation and memory.

The researchers in this study interviewed people that had been involved with the long-term Mannheim Study of Children at Risk.

A total of 280 study participants were interviewed about their drinking habits when they were 19, 22 and 23 years of age. Participants also reported at what age they had consumed their first alcoholic beverage.

The results of the study showed that 22 percent of boys and 16 percent of girls who started drinking during puberty had parents with an alcohol use disorder. However, 14 percent of boys and 15 percent of girls with parents who had an alcohol use disorder didn't start drinking until after finishing puberty.

Both men and women who started drinking after finishing puberty drank on fewer days and drank fewer beverages in the past month compared to men and women who started drinking during puberty.

The researchers screened each participant with the Alcohol Use Disorder Identification Test (AUDIT).

Both men and women who started drinking after puberty had lower scores with the AUDIT screening tool compared to men and women who started drinking during puberty.

“Having the first drink during puberty was associated with elevated drinking levels and more hazardous alcohol consumption patterns,” the study authors wrote.

The authors noted that a limitation to this study could be that they did not consider peer pressure as a factor in hazardous drinking patterns.

The study authors recommended that prevention efforts should focus on keeping teens from consuming alcohol until they have finished puberty, allowing for full brain development before introducing a potentially disruptive substance.

This study was published in May in Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research.

The German Research Foundation provided funding for this project. No conflicts of interest were declared.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
May 16, 2013
Last Updated:
February 11, 2015