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Accounting for the Association of Family Conflict and Heavy Alcohol Use Among Adolescent Girls: The Role of Depressed Mood

Gary C. K. Chan, Adrian B. Kelly, John W. Toumbourou

Objective: Heavy alcohol use increases dramatically at age 14, and there is emerging cross-sectional evidence that when girls experience family conflict at younger ages (1113 years) the risk of alcohol use and misuse is high. This study evaluated the role of family conflict and subsequent depressed mood in predicting heavy alcohol use among adolescent girls. Method: This was a three-wave longitudinal study with annual assessments (modal ages 12, 13, and 14 years). The participants (N = 886, 57% female) were from 12 metropolitan schools in Victoria, Australia, and participants completed questionnaires during school class time. The key measures were based on the Communities That Care Youth Survey and included family conflict (Wave 1), depressed mood (Wave 2), and heavy alcohol use (Wave 3). Control variables included school commitment, number of peers who consumed alcohol, whether parents were living together, and ethnic background. Results: With all controls in the model, depressed mood at Wave 2 was predicted by family conflict at Wave 1. The interaction of family conflict with gender was significant, with girls showing a stronger association of family conflict and depressed mood. Depressed mood at Wave 2 predicted heavy alcohol use at Wave 3. Conclusions: Girls may be especially vulnerable to family conflict, and subsequent depressed mood increases the risk of heavy alcohol use. The results support the need for gender-sensitive family-oriented prevention programs delivered in late childhood and early adolescence. (J. Stud. Alcohol Drugs, 74, 396405, 2013)