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Developmental Consistency in Associations Between Depressive Symptoms and Alcohol Use in Early Adolescence

Carolyn A. McCarty, Brian T. Wymbs, Kevin M. King, W. Alex Mason, Ann Vander Stoep, Elizabeth McCauley, John Baer

Objective: Despite frequent theorizing, prior literature on the association between depressive symptoms and alcohol use in adolescence has been inconsistent. Yet studies have varied widely with respect to age at assessments, time frame of prediction, and controls for comorbid conditions and demographic factors. The current study examined whether the associations between depressive symptoms and alcohol use were similar in valence and magnitude over a 4-year period in early adolescence. Method: A sample of 521 young adolescents and their parents were interviewed every year from sixth (mean age = 12.0 years) through ninth grades. At each interview, symptom counts on depressive and conduct disorders were generated from the Diagnostic Interview Schedule for Children. Adolescents also reported on their alcohol use, which was converted to a binary variable. Autoregressive, cross-lagged panel models specifying depressive and conduct disorder symptoms as predictors of alcohol use 1 year later with equality constraints were tested and compared with models allowing path coefficients to vary over time. Results: For youth self-report, depressive symptoms were positively associated with alcohol use 1 year later over and above conduct problems and earlier alcohol use throughout early adolescence. By parental report, only very early adolescent depressive symptoms (sixth to seventh grades) were associated with alcohol use. Gender did not moderate findings for analyses with self- or parental-report data. Conclusions: These results indicate that, even in the context of conduct disorder symptoms, depressive symptoms are important indicators of risk for use of alcohol across early adolescence. (J. Stud. Alcohol Drugs, 73, 444453, 2012)