Adolescents often show risk-taking behavior, including experimentation with alcohol. Previous studies have shown that advanced pubertal maturation is related to increased alcohol use in adolescents, even when controlling for age. Little is known about the underlying mechanisms of this relation between pubertal maturation and alcohol use. The goal of the present study was twofold. In Experiment 1, we investigated whether advanced pubertal maturation is associated with higher levels of alcohol use, when controlling for age. To this end, questionnaires on pubertal development and alcohol use were administered to a large sample of 797 Dutch adolescents (405 boys) aged 11-16 years. In Experiment 2, we explored whether sex steroids contribute to this relation between pubertal maturation and alcohol use by examining the association between salivary sex steroid levels and alcohol use in 168 adolescents (86 boys). It was found that, when controlling for age, advanced pubertal maturation is related to increased alcohol use in adolescent boys and girls. Controlling for age, higher testosterone and estradiol levels correlated with the onset of alcohol use in boys. In addition, higher estradiol levels were associated with a larger quantity of alcohol use in boys. Correlations between sex steroids and alcohol use were not significant in girls. These findings show that advanced pubertal maturation is related to advanced alcohol use, and that higher sex steroid levels could be one of the underlying mechanisms of this relation in boys. Sex steroids might promote alcohol use by stimulating brain regions implicated in reward processing.
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