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Ending Puberty on a High

Middle, Later Stages of Puberty Have Higher Risk of Substance Abuse
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Sept. 8, 2004 -- As puberty progresses, so does a young person's risk of using and abusing alcohol, tobacco, or marijuana, according to a team of U.S. and Australian researchers.

The researchers studied more than 5,700 students aged 10 to 15 living in Washington state and Victoria, Australia.

George Patton, MD, of the Centre for Adolescent Health at Australia's University of Melbourne, and colleagues wanted to find out how puberty affected the youths' experience with tobacco, alcohol, and marijuana.

They found higher levels of substance use and abuse during puberty's middle and later stages, which corresponds to stages where many of the physical changes can be seen, compared with earlier stages of puberty.

The risk of having ever used tobacco, tried pot, or been drunk was almost twice as high for participants in the midst of puberty and three times as high for those in late puberty.

The odds of having recently used tobacco, pot, or alcohol were "moderately higher" or nearly 50% higher in midpuberty and more than twice as high in late puberty, write the researchers in the journal Pediatrics.

Those numbers tracked substance use. Substance abuse -- defined as daily smoking, any binge drinking, drinking at least weekly, or using pot at least weekly -- was also linked into pubertal stage.

"The odds of substance abuse were twofold higher in midpuberty and more than threefold higher in late puberty," write the researchers in the journal Pediatrics.

In fact, pubertal stage was more important than a child's age or grade level.

The timing of puberty was important. Participants who started puberty at an earlier age had higher levels of substance use than those who matured later.

Friends also played a role.

Participants in the later stages of puberty were more likely to have friends who were substance users. Those relationships may have paved the way to substance abuse, say the researchers.

"Peer substance use held a strong association with substance abuse," they write.

Discouraging the recreational use of tobacco, pot, and alcohol within peer social groups may help avoid substance abuse, the researchers conclude.

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