Alcoholism Linked To Drinking During Puberty, Says New Study
Are teenagers who have their first drink during puberty more likely to become addicted to alcohol? A new study from Germany on youth drinking says yes.
Researchers at the University of Heidelberg found that the earlier someone starts consuming alcohol, the greater their risk of becoming an alcoholic. After monitoring the drinking habits of 283 young adults over a four-year period and noting their drinking behaviors at ages 19, 22 and 23, the research team found that those who started drinking earlier tended to drink more and more frequently later.
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The study was published in the clinical journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, the official journal of the Research Society on Alcoholism.
"Puberty is a phase in which the brain reward system undergoes major functional changes," Rainer Spanagel, one of the study's leading authors, said in a statement. "Therefore, during puberty the brain is in a highly vulnerable state for any kind of reward, and drug rewards in particular."
This is disappointing news for parents who believe letting their teen drink at home teaches responsible drinking.
Similarly, a 2012 study from the University of Florida found that alcohol, not marijuana, is the gateway drug that starts teens down the path to hard drug use, iScience Times reported. According to research, college students who used alcohol were up to 16 times more likely to try or use other drugs.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC, alcohol is the most commonly used and abused drug among persons under the age of 21 in the U.S., even above tobacco and illicit drugs like marijuana. The CDC reports that 39 percent of high school students drink some amount of alcohol in a thirty-day period, and that 22 percent of them binge drink. Additionally, the CDC notes in its 2011 Youth Risk Behavior Survey that eight percent of high school students drove after drinking alcohol.
"Priority health-risk behaviors, which are behaviors that contribute to the leading causes of morbidity and mortality among youth and adults, often are established during childhood and adolescence, extend into adulthood, and are interrelated and preventable," the survey reports.
The CDC also notes that underage drinkers consume more alcohol in one drinking occasion than adult drinkers do. "Binge" drinking, as it's called, is a dangerous and even deadly practice. One CDC study from 2012 found that college students in the U.S. consume an average of nine drinks per binging occasion. CBS reports:
Binge drinkers on average imbibed about six times per month for a four-year period. Blood tests that looked at cholesterol, blood sugar levels, and blood cell and protein counts revealed that binge drinkers had impairments in the function of endothelial and smooth muscle cells. These are the two main types of cells that control blood flow in the body, the researchers said.
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