Page last updated: August 22, 2013

Early childhood personality may predict teen alcohol abuse

New research suggests adolescent alcohol use has roots in early childhood as children develop personality characteristics and life experiences which can lead to early alcohol problems.

Researchers evaluated measures of temperament among children six months through to five years of age and found that childhood temperament prior to age five predicts adolescent alcohol use and problems at age 15.5 years.

The early experiences were influential even after controlling for socio-demographic factors and parental alcohol problems.

Danielle Dick, Ph.D., associate professor of psychiatry, psychology and human and molecular genetics at Virginia Commonwealth University and her colleagues used data from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC), a large epidemiological sample of pregnant women with delivery dates between April 1991 and December 1992. The children (6,504 boys, 6,143 girls) were followed longitudinally. Temperamental characteristics were assessed at six time points from six to 69 months of age. Alcohol use and problems were assessed at age 15.5 years.

“Some of the most interesting findings to emerge from this study are that, one, we can identify childhood temperamental styles that emerge prior to age five that predict alcohol use and problems in mid-adolescence,” said Dick.

“The early childhood temperamental styles that predict alcohol use are very different and largely uncorrelated – that both kids who show consistent emotional and behavioral problems early on are at elevated risk and kids who are consistently sociable at a very early age are also at risk. This indicates very different pathways to alcohol involvement/patterns, that emerge early on, which has important implications for prevention efforts.”

Interestingly, the association between sociability and alcohol use/problems was more significant than the association found between emotional and conduct difficulties and later alcohol problems, said Dick.

Adolescent Alcohol Use is Predicted by Childhood Temperament Factors Before Age 5, with Mediation Through Personality and Peers. Danielle M. Dick, Fazil Aliev, Shawn J. Latendresse, Matt Hickman, Jon Heron, John Macleod, Carol Joinson, Barbara Maughan, Glyn Lewis, Kenneth S. Kendler. Alcoholism: Clinical and Ecperimental research, published online. 10 Jul 2013.



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