Developmental Trends in Alcohol Use Initiation and Escalation From Early to Middle Adolescence: Prediction by Urgency and Trait Affect

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Studies on adolescent drinking have not always been able to distinguish between initiation and escalation of drinking, because many studies include samples in which initiation has already occurred; hence, initiation and escalation are often confounded. The present study draws from a dual-process theoretical framework to investigate: if changes in the likelihood of drinking initiation and escalation are predicted by a tendency toward rash action when experiencing positive and negative emotions (positive and negative urgency) and whether trait positive and negative affect moderate such effects. Alcohol naïve adolescents (n = 944; age M = 12.16, SD = .96; 52% female) completed 6 semiannual assessments of trait urgency and affect (Wave 1) and alcohol use (Waves 2–6). A 2-part random-effects model was used to estimate changes in the likelihood of any alcohol use versus escalation in the volume of use among initiators. Main effects suggest a significant association between positive affect and change in level of alcohol use among initiators, such that lower positive affect predicted increased alcohol involvement. This main effect was qualified by a significant interaction between positive urgency and positive affect predicting changes in the escalation of drinking, such that the effect of positive urgency was augmented for those high on trait positive affect, though only at extremely high levels of positive affect. Results suggest risk factors in the development of drinking depend on whether initiation or escalation is investigated. A more nuanced understanding of the early developmental phases of alcohol involvement can inform prevention and intervention efforts.

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