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Early Puberty Tied to Increased Substance Use During Adolescence

Update Date: Oct 08, 2013 01:28 PM EDT
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Since puberty is a time in which the body goes through many changes, studying the effects of this development in preteens or teenagers is important. Even though puberty affects all children, when it starts could greatly influence adolescent behavior. In a new study, researchers analyzed the relationship between the onset of puberty and its effect on substance use. They reported that children who experienced puberty earlier have a higher risk of using substances throughout their adolescent years.

"My research focuses on how substance use looks in adolescents and young adult populations and, most important, how we can prevent or reduce use," said public health researcher, Jessica Duncan Cance. Cance is an assistant professor in the College of Education's Department of Kinesiology and Health Education.

For this study out of the University of Texas at Austin, the research team composed of Cance and colleagues from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, examined children between 11 and 17-years-old. The sample set involved 6,500 male and female children from different racial and ethnic backgrounds. The researches measured the participants' perceived pubertal timing using the Pubertal Development Scale (PDS), which is a five question survey that asks children about body and facial hair growth, skin changes and height. For girls specifically, questions also asked about breast development and menstruation.

The researchers had asked about substance use within the past three months. The team found that children who matured faster than others had a greater risk of experimenting with drugs such as cigarettes, alcohol and marijuana. The researchers also found that there was a great variation in the onset of puberty for both girls and boys than previously presumed. Girls tended to develop faster than boys and nonwhite children matured faster than white children.

"While puberty is often thought of as a solely biological process, our research has shown that pubertal development is a combination of biological, psychological and social processes that all likely interact to influence risk-taking behavior like substance use," said Cance according to Medical Xpress. "Our study suggests that being the first girl in the class to need a bra, for example, prompts or exacerbates existing psychological and social aspects that can, in turn, lead to substance use and other risky behaviors early in life."

The study, "Perceived Pubertal Timing and Recent Substance Use among Adolescents: A Longitudinal Perspective," was published in the journal, Addiction

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