Scientists at the University of Liverpool have shown that
young people who show impulsive tendencies are more prone to drinking heavily
at an early age.
The research suggests that targeting personality traits,
such as impulsivity, could potentially be a successful intervention in
preventing adolescent drinking from developing into problems with alcohol in
Studies in the UK show that approximately 24% of 12 year
olds have reported at least one episode of alcohol consumption, rising to 77%
of 15 year olds.
Previous research has suggested that impulsive behaviour is
linked with adolescent drinking, but it is unclear whether young people who are
impulsive tend to drink more, or whether drinking whilst the brain is still
developing is particularly harmful and can lead to the progression of impulsive
The team used computer tests that measured inhibitory
control, the ability to delay gratification, and risk-taking. More than 280
young people who were aged 12 or 13 at the beginning of the study took part in
the study. The participants repeated the computer tests every six months over
the two years of the study.
Broad social trends
Results showed that those participants who were more
impulsive in the tests went on to drink more heavily or have problems with
alcohol at a later time. The study did not, however, show that alcohol
consumption led to increased impulsive behaviour on the computer tests. This
suggests that there is a link between impulsivity and adolescent drinking, but
that alcohol may not necessarily lead to increased impulsive behaviour in the
Professor Matt Field, from the University's Institute of
Psychology Health and Society, explains: "Young people in the UK are
starting to drink alcohol at a younger age than in the past, and much of this
reflects broad social trends. There are, however, significant differences in
the age at which teenagers start to experiment with alcohol and the age at
which they start drinking regularly."
"It is important to identify the psychological
characteristics of adolescents who are likely to go on to drink heavily,
because this can help us target alcohol prevention more effectively. In
addition, we need to identify the consequences of heavy drinking during
adolescence for health in general, and brain development in particular."
"Our results show that more impulsive individuals are
more likely to start drinking heavily in the future compared to less impulsive
individuals. The next steps are to take these results and apply them to
prevention interventions that are tailored to individual characteristics, such
"We also need to conduct studies where we follow-up
young people for longer than the two years that we did in the present study.
This will help us to understand whether heavy drinking over a longer period
during adolescence has an impact on impulsive behaviour."