Verbally Advanced Kids Have Higher Risk for Teen Alcohol Abuse

Diverse group of kids isolated on white.

As they grow older, children naturally develop increasing levels of mastery over the skills required for verbal communication. However, some children experience a greater advancement of their verbal skills than others. In a study published in 2014 in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research, researchers from the U.S. and Finland investigated the connection between the advanced development of verbal skills in early childhood and the risk for teen alcohol abuse. These researchers also investigated the connection between the development of advanced verbal skills in the earlier stages of childhood and teenagers’ chances of consuming alcohol frequently and getting drunk.

Verbal Communication Basics

Most of the brain development necessary for the use of language and speech occurs between birth and a child’s third birthday, the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders reports. Children who don’t begin to develop the appropriate skills within this time frame typically have a significantly reduced chance of becoming good verbal communicators at any point in the future. Generally speaking, an environment conducive to producing verbal advancement features lots of people who speak a given language in somewhat different ways, as well as plenty of visual and auditory (sound-based) stimulation. Even after the most critical formative years come to an end, children continue to develop their basic verbal toolkit up until they reach age 5.

Teen Drinking Basics

Preteens and teenagers who drink alcohol incur heightened risks for a host of serious life disruptions, including intoxication-related accidents, increased participation in antisocial behaviors, a reduced ability to learn or retain new information, incomplete sexual development, incomplete development of critical aspects of normal brain function, increased chances of violence perpetration and violence victimization, alcohol poisoning and the onset of drug or medication abuse. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention keep periodic tabs on teen and preteen drinking trends with a project called the Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System and an annual questionnaire called the Youth Risk Behavior Survey. This survey indicates that nearly 40 percent of all American high-schoolers drink at least some alcohol every month. In addition, in any given month, more than one in five high-schoolers (22 percent) experiences rapid drunkenness by participating in a form of short-term heavy alcohol consumption known as binge drinking.

Advanced Verbal Skills as a Risk Factor

In the study published in Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research, researchers from two American institutions and three Finnish institutions used a long-term study of twins to explore the connection between relatively advanced verbal communication skills and the chances of drinking alcohol during adolescence. The parents of all of the twins enrolled in the study assessed their children’s verbal skills at the age of 12, and subsequently assessed them again at age 16. The researchers compared these assessments to the twin participants’ level of general involvement in alcohol consumption, frequency of alcohol consumption and frequency of drunkenness.

The researchers looked for pairs of twins in which one sibling had notably better verbal communication abilities than his or her sibling. After completing a complex analysis, they concluded that, for any given pair of twins with unequal verbal skills, the twin with the higher level of skill had a substantially increased chance of drinking any alcohol at all, drinking frequently and drinking to the point of intoxication. The researchers also concluded that the twins with relatively advanced verbal abilities had a greater likelihood of forming social connections with other teenagers who drink alcohol during adolescence.

The authors of the study published in Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research made their findings on the impact of advanced verbal skills after taking steps to account for all other potential influences on the rate, frequency and intensity of teen drinking. For this reason, they believe they have uncovered a genuine, predictable influence on the chances that a given teenager will drink and develop problematic drinking behaviors. The authors specifically note that the connection to other alcohol-consuming peers may go a long way toward explaining the frequency of drunkenness in verbally skilled teenagers. They also note that the drinking patterns that verbally skilled teens develop in adolescence may continue when those teens enter early adulthood.

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