Reciprocal relations between internalizing symptoms and frequency of alcohol use: Findings from a longitudinal study of Mexican-origin youth
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Description: Alcohol consumption and internalizing symptoms, which often co-occur, pose considerable risk to the developing adolescent and have lasting public health consequences. Various theories posit that internalizing symptoms are risk factors for underage alcohol use because alcohol can reduce the subjective experience of distress and thus serves a self-medicating function. Consistent with this view, previous research has documented concurrent associations between alcohol use and symptoms of anxiety and depression. However, the dearth of longitudinal research, particularly for ethnic minority youth, raises questions about the replicability and causal direction of these effects. The goal of the present research was to clarify these issues, and investigate whether different facets of anxiety and depression are uniquely associated with alcohol use in adolescence. The present research examined cross-lagged relations between frequency of alcohol use and internalizing symptoms, using data from a longitudinal study of 674 Mexican-origin youth (50% female) assessed at ages 14 and 16. Findings show that (a) higher levels of alcohol consumption at age 14 prospectively predicted increases in anxiety and depression symptoms, (b) youth who reported higher levels of anxiety and depression at age 14 were more likely to increase their frequency of alcohol consumption, and (c) the most robust findings were found for symptoms common to both anxiety and depression. We found reciprocal relations between anxiety and depression symptoms and frequency of alcohol use, supporting both the self-medication and alcohol-induced disruption models. Thus, interventions aimed at reducing early alcohol use by Mexican-origin youth are likely to decrease risk for internalizing symptoms and, conversely, interventions aimed at reducing early emerging symptoms of anxiety and depression are likely to decrease later alcohol consumption.