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Early language skills might also mean early drinking, study shows

September 12, 2013|By Mary MacVean
  • Finnish scientists looked at early verbal development and teenage drinking. Here, Los Angeles Superior Court, in cooperation with the Claremont police, conducted a driving under the influence trial a few years ago at Claremont High School.
Finnish scientists looked at early verbal development and teenage drinking.… (Beatrice De Gea / Los Angeles…)

Got a kid who speaks young? Reads early? Sure, that predicts better school achievement. But – isn’t there always a but? – it also could mean more frequent drinking during adolescence and young adulthood, scientists say.

Researchers in Finland looked at two groups of twins in long-term studies and assessed them at different ages.

“We found that differences in language development in early childhood and school age predict alcohol use behaviors in adolescence and up to young adulthood,” said Antti Latvala, a researcher at the University of Helsinki and an author of the study published online Thursday and to appear in the February 2014 issue of Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research.

The potential connection between childhood development and alcohol use has been studied previously, including some findings that higher scores on childhood standardized tests were linked to less abstinence.

The latest research included groups of twins born from 1983 to 1987 and from 1975 to 1979. The parents were surveyed about their speaking and reading skills, and the twins about their drinking habits. The researchers compared twins to each other. Studying twins enabled them to rule out some possible confounding factors.

“[W]e found that better childhood verbal development -- as indicated by an earlier age of speaking words, learning to read earlier or having better expressive language skills in school age -- was often predictive of a higher likelihood of engaging in more frequent drinking … across adolescence,” Latvala said in a statement.

Why? The scientists say they don’t know, but they have some ideas – including peer influences and the possible tendency among early learners to seek novel experiences.

Certainly, the researchers note, adolescent drinking is not uncommon and is regarded as normal behavior in many countries. They also note that it’s important to consider cultural factors; there are few nonwhites in Finland, for example, and other studies have shown that African American adolescents are less likely to drink than other young people, though they “catch up” as young adults.

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