Substance Use

10% Of 9- And 10-Year-Olds Are Curious About Trying Alcohol And Tobacco

Don’t wait until your kids are in middle school to discuss substance use.

A preteen takes a cigarette from a friend.

About 1 in 10 kids aged 9 and 10 are interested in trying alcohol and tobacco, according to a new study. This research shows that parents need to discuss drugs and alcohol with their kids in elementary school — waiting until middle school could be too late.

“The earlier in adolescence a child begins using these substances, the greater the potential impact on brain development and functioning,” Megan Martz, Ph.D., a psychiatry professor at the University of Michigan and author on the study, said in a press release. “Their household environments and messaging from parents can play a major role at this age, while the influence of peers will become more important over time.”

The study, published in Drug & Alcohol Dependence Reports found that kids as young as 9 and 10 begin to wonder about alcohol, tobacco, and even recreational drugs such as marijuana. Furthermore, these substances may be easily accessible at home without parents having set rules about their use.

“We were very surprised by the percentage of parents — more than 25% of the entire group — who hadn’t made any explicit rules about substance use for children this age,” says Martz.

The study showed that 1 in 10 of the nearly 12,000 kids surveyed say they’re curious about using alcohol or tobacco products before they become teenagers, and 1 in 50 report curiosity about using marijuana.

That interest can’t be attributed solely to kids witnessing adults using those products since as many as 3% of the 9- and 10-year-olds reported that they already have a friend who uses one of these drugs. Kids with a friend who was using a substance were much more likely to be interested in trying alcohol or nicotine-containing products themselves.

Up to 35% of parents in the study said their kids may have easy access to alcohol at home, while 7% said the same about access to tobacco access and 3% for marijuana.

Access the these substances diverges along economic lines, as alcohol was more readily available in the home for pre-teens whose parents made $100,000 or more per year, with kids in that group reporting they were much more likely to be curious about alcohol. However, kids from families with incomes of $50,000 or less were slightly more likely to be curious about nicotine and marijuana and to have it available in the home.

Black parents were much more likely than other parents to have a rule that their children may not use tobacco, marijuana, or alcohol, and low-income parents were slightly more likely than those with middle or high incomes to have similar rules.