Teen Girls Especially Vulnerable to Family Stress, Alcohol Use, Study Finds
Some teenage girls try alcohol and never develop an addiction, while others go on to struggle with heavy alcohol consumption and alcohol use disorder. To better understand how heavy alcohol use develops during adolescence, researchers led by Gary C.K. Chan, Adrian B. Kelly and John W. Toumbourou examined the association between family conflict and heavy alcohol use.
The researchers based their work on the understanding that heavy alcohol use tends to increase at age 14, and this is especially true when girls experience family conflict before the age of 13. The researchers examined how family conflict and a resulting depressed mood influences alcohol consumption in adolescent girls.
The researchers conducted a longitudinal study consisting of three waves of assessments conducted annually at ages 12, 13 and 14. The sample included 886 participants, of which 57 percent were female. The participants were all students at one of 12 metropolitan schools in Victoria, Australia.
The students were instructed to complete questionnaires at school that were based on the Communities That Care Youth Survey. The survey focused on different aspects of the study with each wave. Wave 1 examined family conflict, Wave 2 examined depressed mood and Wave 3 examined heavy alcohol use. The researchers also controlled for certain variables, including consumption of alcohol by peers, school involvement and home environment.
The results of the analysis showed that a depressed mood exhibited at Wave 2 was predicted by the presence of family conflict measured during Wave 1. The association among females was significant, with a much stronger connection between family conflict and depressed mood than that measured among males. In addition, a depressed mood measured at Wave 2 predicted heavy alcohol consumption measured in Wave 3.
The researchers conclude that females may be particularly vulnerable to the emotional toll experienced during family conflict, resulting in an increased risk for depressed mood and then alcohol consumption.
The results provide support for the use of gender-sensitive prevention efforts that involve the entire family. These programs may be most effective when offered during late childhood and into early adolescence.