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When Psychopathology Matters Most: Identifying Sensitive Periods When Within-Person Changes in Conduct, Affective and Anxiety Problems Are Associated With Male Adolescent Substance Use

NCJ Number
Addiction Volume: 111 Issue: 5 Dated: May 2016 Pages: 924-935
M. Cerda; S. J. Prins
Date Published
May 2016
12 pages
Since there is a documented link between common psychiatric disorders and substance use in hdolescent males, this study addressed two key questions: (1) is there a within-person association between an increase in psychiatric problems and an increase in substance use among adolescent males and (2) are there sensitive periods during male adolescence when such associations are more evident?
Study participants were 503 boys attending public schools in Pittsburgh, PA, public schools, who were assessed at ages 13-19 years, with an average cooperation rate of 92.1 percent. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM)-oriented affective, anxiety and conduct disorder problems were measured with items from the caregiver, teacher, and youth version of the Achenbach scales. Scales were converted to t-scores using age- and gender-based national norms and combined by taking the average across informants. Alcohol and marijuana use were assessed semi-annually by a 16-item Substance Use Scale adapted from the National Youth Survey. When male adolescents experienced a 1-unit increase in their conduct problems t-score, their rate of marijuana use subsequently increased by 1.03 [95 percent confidence interval (CI) = 1.01, 1.05], and alcohol quantity increased by 1.01 (95 percent CI = 1.0002, 1.02). When adolescents experienced a one-unit increase in their average quantity of alcohol use, their anxiety problems t-score subsequently increased by 0.12 (95 percent CI = 0.05, 0.19). These associations were strongest in early and late adolescence. When adolescent boys experience an increase in conduct disorder problems, they are more likely to exhibit a subsequent escalation in substance use. As adolescent boys increase their intensity of alcohol use, they become more likely to develop subsequent anxiety problems. Developmental turning points such as early and late adolescence appear to be particularly sensitive periods for boys to develop co-morbid patterns of psychiatric problems and substance use. (Publisher abstract modified)