Stress during childhood is linked with earlier substance use in male and female adolescents, a new study showed on Saturday. 

Early life stress is children’s experiences of abuse, neglect and conflict.

According to the study presented at ‘ENDO 2024’, the Endocrine Society’s annual meeting in Boston, traumatic events may increase substance use risk for males, while environmental stress and early puberty may increase the risk for females.

Lead researcher Alexandra Donovan said that starting substance use at an earlier age is associated with more severe substance use disorder in adulthood.

“Early life stress and early puberty have both been associated with early substance use, but it wasn’t clear whether these connections are the same across boys and girls,” said Donovan from Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science in Los Angeles, California.

Donovan and colleagues evaluated sex differences in the impact of puberty and stress on alcohol, nicotine and cannabis use by age 13.

They analysed data from 8,608 male and female participants in the Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development (ABCD) Study, who were 9 or 10 years old when the study began.

Early life stress increased the likelihood of earlier substance use for males by 9-18 per cent and for females by 13-20 per cent.

“Our study supports the link between early life stress and teen substance use, extending our understanding of how this connection can differ across sex,” Donovan said.

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