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Thursday, March 22, 2012

Emotional health predictors of substance use initiation during middle school.

This study aimed to evaluate whether emotional health factors, including anxiety and depression, stress, and social support, are associated with earlier youth initiation of alcohol and illicit substances during middle school (from the sixth to the eighth grade).

Data for this study were from the Developmental Pathways Project, a longitudinal study of 521 youth sampled from the Seattle Public Schools. Discrete time survival analyses were used to assess the effects of depression, anxiety, stress, and support on initiation of substance use, measured every 6 months at five time points between sixth and eighth grade.

Youth who had initiated prior to sixth grade had significantly higher levels of depressive symptoms. In multivariate survival analyses controlling for child race/ethnicity, gender, and socioeconomic status, and accounting for conduct problems, youth who reported higher levels of separation anxiety/panic symptoms were at decreased risk for early alcohol initiation. Children with higher levels of perceived teacher support had a significantly lower risk of alcohol initiation during early follow-up periods. Recent stressful life events in Grade 6 were associated with significantly greater risk of initiating an illicit substance by Grade 8.

The current findings highlight the role of stress in the initiation of illicit substance use and suggest that teacher support is associated with lower risk for very early alcohol use. Future research examining anxiety as a predictor of substance use should distinguish between subtypes of anxiety.

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