Study Links Early Puberty to Early Alcohol Consumption

Every child matures at his or her own pace. Some become intellectually mature very early on, but remain emotionally or physically stunted. Conversely, some children begin to exhibit the physical signs of maturation but continue to display intellectual or emotional immaturity. Pubertal timing—the age at which a child begins puberty—varies significantly. This aspect of development has been examined quite exhaustively with relation to later psychological and behavioral outcomes. One such aspect of behavior that has been studied with relation to pubertal timing is risky behavior, including drug and alcohol use. Most of the research in this area has looked primarily at how peer association, in combination with pubertal timing, affects alcohol and drug use in children. Karen Schelleman-Offermans of the Department of Health Promotion at Maastricht University in the Netherlands wanted to take this avenue of research in a new direction. In a recent study, Schelleman-Offermans chose to focus on environmental influences that could contribute to early-onset drinking.

Schelleman-Offermans followed 1,268 adolescents ranging in age from 13 to 14 for three years and evaluated their pubertal timing, the level of perceived peer alcohol consumption, and parental attitudes toward drinking. She found that the children were not only influenced by the behavior of their peers, but were quite heavily influenced by the way in which their parents restricted or allowed alcohol use. For instance, Schelleman-Offermans discovered that the teens who had early pubertal timing tended to have parents with more lenient rules about alcohol. These teens also perceived that their peers drank more than the teens who had later pubertal timing.

Taken together, these factors all contributed to significantly higher rates of alcohol consumption. In fact, teens who thought their peers drank even one unit more of alcohol had a nearly 30% higher risk of beginning to drink. When their parents even slightly tightened their rules pertaining to alcohol, the teens experienced a nearly 20% decrease in their risk of picking up a drink. These findings show that not only does the timing of puberty affect drinking, but so does a child’s perception of others’ drinking behaviors. Even though these perceptions were based on self-reports, as was the timing of puberty, they indicate a positive trend for drinking behaviors. However, perhaps the most startling discovery was the significance of parents’ rule setting with respect to alcohol. “It is important to motivate parents not to relax their alcohol-specific rule setting over time, particularly parents of early pubertal timers,” Schelleman-Offermans said.

Schelleman-Offermans, K., Knibbe, R. A., Kuntsche, E. (2012). Are the effects of early pubertal timing on the initiation of weekly alcohol use mediated by peers and/or parents? A longitudinal study. Developmental Psychology. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0029880

© Copyright 2012 All rights reserved.

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • Leave a Comment
  • shannnon

    September 28th, 2012 at 11:50 AM

    This is somehting that can’t be ignored especially given that more girls are hitting puberty at younger and younger ages. This could be serious problem in the making if we don’t intervene and do something about it.

  • Aaron

    September 28th, 2012 at 1:11 PM

    Peer influence is what got me to start drinking at an early age – I was just 15 when I started drinking, but now it seems like that is not so uncommon.Parental control definitely ha an effect,just so important for parents to keep a check on these youngsters and not let them ‘have their way’ just because they have hit puberty.As the article has rightly mentioned,puberty does not necessarily mean maturity in all areas for an individual,and who better to understand this than parents.

  • Paul

    September 28th, 2012 at 1:12 PM

    Let’s consider this for a moment-

    going through puberty is tough on pretty much every kid out there. If this is a child who is encountering this far sooner than their friends are, then there could be that shame and frustration that they do not know how to voice or even cope with. For many of them this will cause them to turn to alcohol or drugs as a sort of escape, an easy way to avoid the embarassment that they could be feeling. So while the biology may not cause the earlier drinking, we could look at this from more of a sociological point of view and consider that the individual is trying to escape this new path that life is handing them by drowning it all in too many illegal drugs.

  • maysy

    September 29th, 2012 at 5:08 AM

    I am constantly stunned by the number of parents who are supposedly great parents but who think that it is fine to share alcohol with their pre teens and teens and then make excuses that it is ok. As if allowing them to drink when they are home makes this decision alright! These parents have lost their ever loving minds! Know when it will be okay for me to serve a drink to my child and have a little drink together? When they are legally able to do that, which is 21! Until then, if they get it in my house they are going to have to sneak and do it because I am not going to be a party to their delinquency.

  • dexter

    September 29th, 2012 at 2:24 PM

    while it is only natural that kids who hit puberty early would begin drinking earlier,parents need to discourage drinking in young children and should not be afraid to dictate terms to their children until they turn into adults.I believe if you are living in my house then you better follow my rules.


    September 29th, 2012 at 5:51 PM

    Maybe its the feeling of being a grown up that pushes these children towards adult habits like drinking.And that just proves just how important awareness is at that age.Parents-talk to your kids about alcohol and its ill effects. You do not know when they decide to pick up their first drink – prepare them for when they have the chance!

  • joel

    September 29th, 2012 at 11:13 PM

    “were quite heavily influenced by the way in which their parents restricted or allowed alcohol use.”

    ahh…seems like this needs to be put up on billboards because people just dont seem to get it…! parenting is not just bringing a child home but everything that comes in the way of making the child a better person…and alcohol consumption is a dangerous area for kids as young as this to lurk in…yet many parents do not oppose it and they let their kids turn to alcohol at an age when they shouldn’t even have thoughts of alcohol use…!

  • Ella

    September 30th, 2012 at 4:50 AM

    When these kids go through puberty at younger and younger ages, it really throws them into this reality that they are not ready for. They may look and sound like older people, but on the inside they are still just a child and they are dealing with things in a way that can be pretty confusing to them. If they do not have supportive parents explaining what is happening in a way that makes them feel safe and understood than I think that it is only natural theat they are going to look for comfort from something, even if that involves the illegal use of alcohol. This could numb the pain and perhaps shame that they are feeling over their bodies changing and create in them this need to act out just to deflect attention aaway from themselves.

  • PL

    September 30th, 2012 at 9:07 AM

    The parents need to realize the difference between attaining puberty and having mental maturity and especially for something like alcohol consumption.The legal drinking age in so many places is enforced for a reason not just for the sake of it, and if you aren’t bothered about your child’s health and habits then i don’t know who is!

  • grace

    September 30th, 2012 at 3:49 PM

    kids at that age dont really understand things too well.they follow what they see and observe around them and what they its very important for parents to send across the right message when it comes to alcohol and drugs.and not just that but they also need to keep an eye on their kids’ friends because honestly peer pressure is a major factor at that age and could well make or break things for the teen.

  • hank r

    October 1st, 2012 at 4:07 AM

    Why would any parent give their underage child permission to drink?

    They need to remember that just because this child may look older, they really aren’t, and not only is it stupid to let them drink, it is also illegal.

  • LAcey

    October 2nd, 2012 at 4:20 AM

    still I think it is all about the people that the kids are choosing to hang around with- peers have far more influence that we often give them credit for!

  • Creed

    October 3rd, 2012 at 4:13 AM

    You know what I think is one of the biggest problems with teens?
    We really fail to give them credit where credit is due.
    Do we seriously think that they just stick their fingers in their ears and don’t listen to the things that we are saying?
    I think that more of them are paying attention to us than what we want to believe.
    And I think that in the end all of this will eventually pay off.

Leave a Comment

By commenting you acknowledge acceptance of's Terms and Conditions of Use.

* Indicates required field.

GoodTherapy uses cookies to personalize content and ads to provide better services for our users and to analyze our traffic. By continuing to use this site you consent to our cookies.