"People don't enter adolescence as blank slates; they have a history of life experiences that they bring with them, dating back to early childhood," Danielle Dick, a psychologist from at Virginia Commonwealth University and a co-author of the study, said in a statement. "This is one of the most comprehensive attempts to understand very early childhood predictors of adolescent alcohol use in a large epidemiological cohort."
For the study, Dick and her colleagues analyzed the results of a long-term study that tracked thousands of newborns in South West England from birth through 15 1/2 years. The dataset included personality information obtained from mothers in the first five years of the child's life, and from both parents and the subjects themselves thereafter.
The childhood traits that most correlated with alcohol use during teenage years fell on two sides of the temperament spectrum: emotional instability and relatively low sociability on one side, and high sociability on the other — a degree of extroversion that often leads to "sensation seeking" later in life. Tots who were either emotionally challenged or highly extroverted were more likely than other kids to grow into alcohol-drinking teens. (Past research has suggested personality is set by first grade.) "This underscores the fact that drinking during adolescence is largely a social phenomenon," Dick said in a statement. "However, this doesn't mean it's less problematic; we know from other studies that most adolescent drinking is high risk — for example, binge drinking — and can lead to numerous negative consequences."
Image: Toddler, via Shutterstock