Reciprocal Relations Between Internalizing Symptoms and Frequency of Alcohol Use: Findings From a Longitudinal Study of Mexican-Origin Youth

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Aims: Alcohol consumption and internalizing symptoms, which often co-occur, pose considerable risk to the developing adolescent and have lasting public health consequences. Previous research has documented concurrent associations between alcohol use and symptoms of anxiety and depression, but 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. Method: 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. Results: Alcohol use at age 14 prospectively predicted increases in overall internalizing symptoms, and overall internalizing symptoms at age 14 prospectively predicted increases in alcohol use. Reciprocal effects were consistently found for the general distress and anxious arousal facets, but not for anhedonic depression and a scale measuring the cognitive aspects of anxiety. Conclusions: The findings provide evidence of reciprocal relations between alcohol use and internalizing symptoms, but also highlight the danger of treating all symptoms of anxiety and depression as interchangeable components of a single broad domain. Instead, symptoms common to both anxiety and depressive disorders (e.g., general distress) have the most robust reciprocal relations with alcohol use. Thus, intervention programs aimed at reducing early alcohol use by Mexican-origin youth should target this component of the internalizing domain.

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