Muir Wood therapist, David Laing

Toddler Temperament: Can It Predict Teen Alcohol Abuse in Your Son?

There have been many studies connected to child development and correlations to later abuse of alcohol and other substances, but a study published in Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research focuses on specific childhood characteristics that can indicate higher risk of alcohol abuse as a teen.

In this study, researchers tested whether measures of character collected from mothers at assessments staggered between the ages of 6 months through 5 years forecast alcohol use in mid-adolescence. This study also set out to analyze the developmental pathways responsible for mediating these effects and any gender disparities in possibility of risk.


The study found that childhood temperament before age 5 forecasted alcohol use and problems for adolescents at age 15.5. The study controlled for socioeconomic factors and alcohol problems among parents.

Two largely uncorrelated and distinct temperament styles were found in both boys and girl—children with consistent emotional and conduct difficulties (through age 5) and those who were rated as consistently sociable (also through age 5). Both of these temperament types showed increased rates of alcohol problems at age 15.5. The findings indicate multiple pathways to alcohol consumption and problems during adolescence.

Teens and Alcohol

It is becoming more common for teens to start experimenting with drugs and alcohol at an earlier age. It is difficult to detect who will develop a serious problem and who is just experimenting, but factors that put some teens at higher risk include dealing with:

  • Depression
  • Low self-esteem
  • No strong peer group
  • A family history of substance abuse

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, boys usually take their first drink at age 11 and girls at age 13. The teenage brain is still developing and growing in ways that form perception of emotions, excitement, danger and some memories, so alcohol use during this period of brain development can lead to permanent developmental changes.

But stunted development is just one of many risks that teens take on when they abuse drugs. Others include:

  • Higher rate of alcoholism
  • More likely to engage in sexual activity at a younger age
  • More likely to commit or become a victim of violent crime
  • Increased risk of suicide or suicide attempt
  • Increased risk of dropping out of school
  • Higher risk of being involved in a fatal car accident

Get Help

If your son is struggling with alcohol or substance abuse, call us at Muir Wood at the number listed above. Proper development can be thwarted by drug use at any age. Contact us now for information about the treatment that can stop your son’s drug or alcohol abuse in its tracks.