Puberty is an important milestone on the road to growing up. But hitting puberty early may lead some kids to try adult substances earlier than other kids.
A recent study surveyed a group of adolescents about cigarette, alcohol and marijuana use, and at what age they hit puberty.
The results of the study showed that 11-year-olds who hit puberty before their peers were more likely to have used cigarettes, alcohol and/or marijuana in the past few months compared with their on-time or late blooming peers.
Led by Jessica Duncan Cance, PhD, MPH, of The University of Texas at Austin, a group of researchers set out to investigate the relationship between the onsets of puberty and the use of cigarettes, alcohol and marijuana.
Previous research has shown that kids who hit puberty earlier than their peers may be at a higher risk for substance use.
Puberty typically begins between the ages of nine and 10, but there can be wide variation in the onset of puberty, as well as how long it takes teens to complete puberty.
The authors of this study suggested that the psychological and emotional impact of hitting puberty may influence an adolescent’s choice to engage in drinking, smoking or drug use.
For this study, the researchers began surveying nearly 7,000 adolescent boys and girls in sixth to eighth grades from the ongoing Context of Adolescent Substance Use study in rural North Carolina.
Throughout the study, 6,425 adolescents were surveyed in five waves through the age of 17.
Exactly half of the participants were male, 53 percent were white, 36 percent were African American and 4 percent were Latino.
Regarding substance use, the survey included questions about cigarette, alcohol and marijuana consumption.
Regarding puberty onset, the survey included five male-specific and five female-specific questions about the symptoms of puberty.
The results of the study showed that 11-year-olds were more likely to use cigarettes and marijuana in the previous three months if they had started puberty earlier than their on-time and late developing peers.
Early developers were also more likely to use alcohol compared with their on-time peers.
Recent cigarette and marijuana use increased among the on-time adolescents as they got older compared with the early bloomers.
The authors of the study recommended substance use prevention programs for kids before they reach the age of 11.
“Adolescents who believe they are more advanced in puberty than their peers are more likely to have used cigarettes, alcohol and marijuana recently compared with adolescents who believe they are on-time or late developing; these findings are mainly due to differences in use at age 11,” the authors wrote.
This study was published in the October issue of Addiction.
The National Institutes of Health and the National Institute on Drug Abuse provided funding for this project. No conflicts of interest were declared.