, Volume 3, Issue 1, pp 69-82

Pubertal Timing and the Onset of Substance Use in Females During Early Adolescence

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Abstract

The goal of this study is to examine in detail the relationship between pubertal timing and substance use onset using a sample of females from The National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health. The sample includes 966 females who were in 7th grade at Wave 1 and 8th grade at Wave 2. Participants in the sample are approximately 69% White, 20% African American, 4% Asian or Pacific Islander, 2% American Indian, 4% other, of Hispanic origin, and 1% other, not of Hispanic origin. Twenty percent of the females were identified as early maturers based on self-reports of body changes (increased breast size and body curviness) measured in 7th grade. These participants are hypothesized to be at increased risk for substance use onset. Important differences in substance use onset were found between early maturers and their on-time and late-maturing counterparts. During 7th grade, females in the early-maturing group are three times more likely to be in the most advanced stage of substance use (involving alcohol use, drunkenness, cigarette use, and marijuana use) than are those in the on-time/late group. Prevalence rates indicate that early maturers are more likely to have tried alcohol, tried cigarettes, been drunk, and tried marijuana. Prospective findings show that early developers are significantly more likely to transition out of the “No Substance Use” stage between 7th and 8th grade (47% for early developers vs. 22% for on-time and late developers). In addition, early developers are more likely to advance in substance use in general, regardless of their level of use at Grade 7.