So it is commonly accepted that early exposure to drugs is associated to an increased likelihood of addiction. However, it is not known if early onset necessarily causes addiction, or if people who have a predisposition to become addicts are also more likely to begin drug use earlier. I found a paper examining just this! Schramm-Sapyta et al (2009) reviewed literature examining the evidence of vulnerability in adolescence using animal models. I highly suggest reading this paper because it is full of really interesting information (too much to fit into one post!) But here are a few things that I found particularly interesting. Some studies show that adolescent users find drugs more rewarding, and show greater reward sensitivity. In addition they are less susceptible to the negative effects of drug abuse. Since positive experiences with drugs are associated with continued use then it is possible to see a link between these two facts.
In addition his paper examines the implications of impulse control and addiction. Addiction is often seen as a lack of impulse control—individuals consume drugs despite the negative consequences, and adolescents are also seen as having reduced impulse control. On a test where participants are given an immediate small reward or a delayed larger reward, adolescence are more impulsive at baseline. So maybe it is all of these factors, they have higher reward, have less desire to resist the immediate reward, and are less affected by negative experiences. Maybe it’s not the early exposure, but the developmental characteristics of adolescents that leads to this trend.
So are children who are given more freedom with alcohol at a younger age more likely to become addicts? My guess is that there are many other variables that equalize this possibility. For instance the cultural impact may equal out the early exposure, but if we were to somehow account for these other factors my guess would be yes. So final thought maybe we should be replacing Alcohol Edu with activities to ritualized the consumption of alcohol…who said we should get rid of campaign steps??