Early exposure to drugs, alcohol creates lifelong health risk

October 17th, 2008 - 1:11 pm ICT by IANS  

Washington, Oct 17 (IANS) People who began drinking and using marijuana in early teens face a higher risk of early pregnancy, school failures, sexually-transmitted disease and criminal convictions that lasts into their 30s. A study has been able to determine whether it’s bad kids who do drugs, or doing drugs that makes kids bad.

The answer is both, said Duke University psychologist Avshalom Caspi, who co-authored the report with his wife and colleague Terrie Moffitt. They are part of a team of researchers from the US, Britain and New Zealand that analysed data tracking the health of 1,000 New Zealanders from birth through age 32.

Half of the subjects who were using alcohol and marijuana regularly before 15 years were indeed the so-called “bad kids” who came from an abusive, criminal or substance-abusing household and had behaviour problems as children.

But the other half were the “good kids” from more stable backgrounds, and they also ended up in poorer health in their 30s.

The “good kids”, who were without behaviour problems as children and didn’t have any of the family risk factors, but who began using drugs and alcohol before 15, ended up being 3.6 times more likely to be dependent on substances at age 32. They were also more likely than the other good kids to wind up with a criminal conviction and a herpes infection.

Good and bad, the adolescents who regularly used drugs and alcohol “all had poorer health as adults”, Caspi said.

A third of the girls from the “good kids” group were pregnant before age 21 if they had been using drugs and alcohol regularly. That’s the same number of pregnancies as the “bad kids” who didn’t use drugs, according to a Duke University release.

Two-thirds of the “bad kids” who used them before 15 were pregnant before 21 years. By comparison, only 12 percent of “good” girls who were non-users had early pregnancies.

“Even adolescents with no prior history of behavioural problems or family history of substance use problems were at risk for poor health outcomes if they used substances prior to 15,” said co-author Candice Odgers of the University of California-Irvine, who did a post-doctoral fellowship with Caspi and Moffitt.

Because the study has tracked these people from birth, “we know pretty much everything about them and we can sort out these things,” Caspi said. “We have rich data on these kids’ lives and their family situation before they started to do drugs.”

These findings were published online in Psychological Science.

Related Stories

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Posted in World |