30 Jun Drink During Puberty Leads to Addiction in Adulthood
Parents who thought it wise to allow their teen to get that first taste of alcohol at home under their supervision seem to have gotten it all wrong. Drinking responsibly with mom and dad during formative years doesn’t lay the groundwork for responsible drinking later on. Instead, it seems to make it more likely that the child will develop problems later in life; especially if the child took his/her first sips of alcohol during puberty.
It has been known for some time that drinking during teen years was a risk factor for later alcohol addiction, but a German study coming from the Central Institutes of Mental Health at the University of Heidelberg looked even closer and found that addiction could be linked to drinking during key phases of puberty. Kids who drink alcohol during the time of rapid physical maturation appear to be most at risk for later alcohol addiction.
German researchers looked at the pubertal stage of young people rather than simply their age and compared that to drinking habits at 19, 22 and 23 years of age. There were 238 young people involved in the study (131 males and 152 females). The team used questionnaires to determine at what phase of puberty young people took their first drink and then asked about the number of days, amount consumed and any high-risk drinking that was present in their life in the present.
Supplementary research was conducted on 20 lab rats. Pubescent rats were exposed to alcohol and then observed to see how that exposure impacted their voluntary alcohol intake later on. Both the human and rat studies showed that drinking during puberty led to more drinking in early adulthood.
The findings make sense, since during puberty the brain is highly susceptible to the reward mechanisms of drugs or alcohol. At puberty, the brain is making major changes in how the reward system functions. For a window of time, the brain creates more synapses and axons than are necessary, leaving the brain highly sensitized to reward stimuli. Reward substances used during this vulnerable period could lead to later reward-seeking even after the brain reduces the number of axons and synapses to normal levels.
Most boys arrive at puberty around 11 or 12 years of age. Girls enter puberty around ages 10 to 11 years. Since puberty usually lasts five-plus years, kids who are 12 to 14 years of age when they first drink alcohol would be at the point of greatest risk.
In fact, drinking during those years may not only leave young people more prone to alcohol addiction, their brains may be permanently impaired as a result. The teenage developing brain is exceptionally vulnerable to the destructive forces of substances like alcohol and drugs. Kids who wait to drink alcohol until later years are protecting themselves and their brain potential.
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