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Oct 10, 2013 11:38 AM EDT

Teens Who Attain Puberty Early Experiment with Cigarettes, Alcohol and Marijuana, Study

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Teens who begin their puberty at an early age are more likely to try out cigarettes, alcohol and marijuana, according to a new study conducted by public health researcher Jessica Duncan Cance of the University of Texas Austin and colleagues from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

"My research focuses on how substance use looks in adolescent and young adult populations and, most important, how we can prevent or reduce use," said Cance, an assistant professor in the College of Education's Department of Kinesiology and Health Education, in an official statement.

The researchers arrived at the conclusion after studying nearly 6,500 boys and girls of different ethnic and racial backgrounds, aged 11 to 17, who were questioned about their substance use in the past three months.

They were also asked to fill out a questionnaire to determine when they began puberty. The questions were based on body hair growth, skin changes, height, voice and facial hair growth for boys, and breast development and menstruation for girls.

According to U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, puberty typically begins in girls between the ages of 9 and 13, which is slightly earlier than boys. Boys undergo physical changes of puberty between the ages of 11 and 14.

This particular study also found that nonwhites reach puberty earlier than whites.

"We all go through puberty. We remember it being either an easy transition or a very difficult one," Cance said. "While puberty is often thought of as a solely biological process, our research has shown that pubertal development is a combination of biological, psychological and social processes that all likely interact to influence risk-taking behavior like substance use."

"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," Cance said.

The findings of the study 'Perceived Pubertal Timing and Recent Substance Use Among Adolescents: A Longitudinal Perspective,' were published in the October issue of the journal Addiction.

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