Impact of Pubertal Stage at First Drink on Adult Drinking Behavior
Reprint requests: Miriam Schneider, PhD, Research Group Developmental Neuropsychopharmacology, Institute of Psychopharmacology, Central Institute of Mental Health, Medical Faculty Mannheim, University of Heidelberg, J5, 68159 Mannheim, Germany; Tel.: 0049 621 17036269; Fax: 0049 621 17036255; E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Early alcohol use is one of the strongest predictors of later alcohol use disorders, with early use usually taking place during puberty. Many researchers have suggested drinking during puberty as a potential biological basis of the age at first drink (AFD) effect. However, the influence of the pubertal phase at alcohol use initiation on subsequent drinking in later life has not been examined so far.
Pubertal stage at first drink (PSFD) was determined in N = 283 young adults (131 males, 152 females) from an epidemiological cohort study. At ages 19, 22, and 23 years, drinking behavior (number of drinking days, amount of alcohol consumed, hazardous drinking) was assessed using interview and questionnaire methods. Additionally, an animal study examined the effects of pubertal or adult ethanol (EtOH) exposure on voluntary EtOH consumption in later life in 20 male Wistar rats.
PSFD predicted drinking behavior in humans in early adulthood, indicating that individuals who had their first drink during puberty displayed elevated drinking levels compared to those with postpubertal drinking onset. These findings were corroborated by the animal study, in which rats that received free access to alcohol during the pubertal period were found to consume more alcohol as adults, compared to the control animals that first came into contact with alcohol during adulthood.
The results point to a significant role of stage of pubertal development at first contact with alcohol for the development of later drinking habits. Possible biological mechanisms and implications for prevention are discussed.