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Early puberty linked to higher probability of substance abuse

Teens who begin puberty at an earlier age are more likely to experiment with cigarettes, alcohol and marijuana, according to a new study published in the journal Addiction. Researchers from the University of Texas at Austin and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill questioned over 6,500 adolescent boys and girls about their substance use in the past three months. The respondents were also asked to complete a questionnaire in order for the research team to figure out when they began puberty.

While the majority of the teens surveyed started to mature during the age range that is considered normal, those who began at age 9 or 10 were more likely to have tried drugs or alcohol. Although the study found an association between puberty and substance abuse, there was not enough evidence to suggest that there is a true cause-and-effect relationship between the two. Jessica Cance, the lead investigator, did, however, speculate about the reasons why this association exists.

“We all go through puberty,” said Cance in a press release. “We remember it being either an easy transition or a very difficult one. 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.”

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