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Prospective Risk Factors for Alcohol Misuse in Late Adolescence

Phyllis L. Ellickson, Joan S. Tucker, David J. Klein, Kimberly A. McGuigan

Objective: This longitudinal study investigated Grade-7 and Grade-10 risk factors for alcohol misuse at Grade 12. Alcohol misuse was conceptualized as problem-related drinking (e.g., missing school), high-risk drinking (e.g., drunk driving) and high consumption. Method: Prospective analyses using two-part models predicted any alcohol misuse and the amount of misuse (given that some has occurred) for over 4,200 (52% male) participants in the RAND Adolescent Panel Study. Predictor variables were demographics, substance use and exposure, prodrug attitudes, rebelliousness and deviant behavior, self-esteem, family structure and relations, and grades. Results: Grade-7 predictors of alcohol misuse 5 years later included early drinking onset, parental drinking, future intentions to drink, cigarette offers, difficulty resisting pressures to smoke, being white, being male, having an older sibling, deviant behavior and poor grades. By Grade 10, predictors of alcohol misuse 2 years later included drinking and marijuana use by self and peers, future intentions to drink, difficulty resisting pressures to drink and use marijuana, being male, coming from a disrupted family and deviant behavior. Somewhat different predictors were identified for problem-related, high-risk and high consumption drinking, emphasizing the importance of investigating multiple dimensions of misuse. Conclusions: The high social acceptability of alcohol use makes prevention difficult. Curbing alcohol misuse may be a more attainable goal than preventing any use. These results indicate that predictors of misuse in late adolescence can be identified by Grade 7 and are generally visible and modifiable. Prevention efforts should begin by early adolescence, address both familial and peer influences to drink and use other substances, and take into account problems that predict alcohol misuse (e.g., poor academic performance and early deviant behavior). (J. Stud. Alcohol 62: 773-782, 2001)