For girls, a younger age at the initiation of alcohol use is associated with an increased risk for psychiatric symptoms, according to a study published in Addictive Behaviors.
Researchers analyzed undergraduate students (N=269; 74.7% girls) who experienced trauma and used alcohol regularly by using a compilation of self-reported questionnaires. These questionnaires measured the impact of the trauma, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms, anxiety and depression indications, alcohol use disorders, and family history data.
Out of these participants, characteristics for PTSD was present in 38% of boys and 47% of girls, and girls had a significant relationship between an earlier onset of alcohol initiation, an increased presence of trauma, and psychiatric symptoms. Among girls, an earlier onset of alcohol initiation was significantly associated with PTSD symptom severity (P =.01), elevated anxiety symptoms (P =.03), and elevated depression symptoms (P =.006). Also among girls, a higher trauma burden was significantly associated with PTSD symptom severity (P <.001), elevated anxiety symptoms (P =.003), and elevated depression symptoms (P =.003). These associations were not significant among boys.
It should be noted that the study did rely solely on self-reported questionnaires, recruit participants with past trauma, and did not use psychiatric diagnosis, just self-described symptoms. Future studies need to evaluate the relationship between the sex differences shown in this study, understand the mechanism alcohol has on brain growth and development, and analyze meaningful clinical alcohol consumption interventions to improve mental health later in life.
In conclusion, girls with an earlier age of alcohol initiation appear to be at a higher risk for PTSD, anxiety, and depression symptoms after an interpersonal life trauma.
Berenz EC, McNett S, Rappaport LM, et al. Age of alcohol use initiation and psychiatric symptoms among young adult trauma survivors. Addict Behav. 2019; 88:150-156. doi: 10.1016/j.addbeh.2018.08.022.