A UK study has confirmed a link between impulsive behaviours in young people and the decision to drink heavily at an early age. Previous research has suggested that impulsive behaviour is linked with adolescent drinking, but it is unclear whether young people who are impulsive tend to drink more, or whether drinking while the brain is still developing harms the brain, leading to the progression of impulsive behaviors.
University of Liverpool researchers believe targeting personality traits, such as impulsivity, could potentially be a successful intervention in preventing adolescent drinking from developing into problems with alcohol in later life.
For the research, the team used computer tests to measure inhibitory control (the ability to delay gratification) and risk-taking. More than 280 young people who were aged 12 or 13 at the beginning of the study were followed. The computer tests were repeated every six months over the two years of the study.
Results showed that those participants who were more impulsive in the tests went on to drink more heavily or have problems with alcohol at a later time. The study did not, however, show that alcohol consumption led to increased impulsive behavior on the computer tests. This suggests that there is a link between impulsivity and adolescent drinking, but that alcohol may not necessarily lead to increased impulsive behavior in the short term.
Professor Matt Field, from the University’s Institute of Psychology Health and Society, explains: “Young people in the UK are starting to drink alcohol at a younger age than in the past, and much of this reflects broad social trends. There are, however, significant differences in the age at which teenagers start to experiment with alcohol and the age at which they start drinking regularly”.
Source: University of Liverpool