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Early Childhood Behavior Could Predict Adolescent Substance Use, Study Says

Research Summary, Join Together, July 18, 2006

Children with better impulse control and resiliency at ages 3 to 5 are less likely to have started drinking or using illicit drugs at ages 12 to 14, Medical News Today reported on July 16.

Researchers from Idaho and Michigan State Universities tracked 514 children over 10 years, testing their ability to control impulse and behavior and to adapt to environmental demands between ages 3 and 5. When the children reached ages of 12 to 14, they reported their drug and alcohol use.

Adolescents who were less able to control their behavior at ages 3 to 5, or whose behavior control increased more slowly over time, were more likely to drink, to report having been drunk, to have more alcohol-related problems and to have used drugs other than alcohol.

Children with higher resiliency, or ability to adapt to the environment, in early childhood were less likely to start drinking and experience drunkenness at the early ages of 12 to 14, and were also less likely to show signs of sadness, anxiety, aggressiveness or delinquent behavior.

Children with a parent who had misused alcohol were also more likely to use alcohol or experience alcohol problems at an early age, although they were not more likely to use illicit drugs.

'These findings are very important because we know that early drinking (at age 14 or earlier) is associated with a greater likelihood for alcohol abuse or dependence in adulthood,' said lead author Maria M. Wong, Ph.D., assistant professor in the department of psychology at Idaho State University. 'If early childhood behaviors such as behavioral control and resiliency put individuals at risk for alcohol and drug use, then programs aimed at changing those behaviors at an early age may protect individuals from experimenting with drugs and alcohol later on.'

The study was published in the journal Child Development.