An Examination of the Impact of Childhood Emotional Abuse and Gender on Cannabis Use Trajectories Among Community Youth

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Cannabis is the most frequently used illicit substance among youth, with rates of cannabis use escalating across adolescence. One potential factor predicting cannabis use among youth is childhood emotional abuse (CEA), which has been associated with substance use behaviors more broadly. Although CEA may be associated with increased cannabis use in general, it is likely that gender may have an impact on these relations, given that girls are more likely to use substances following abuse experiences than boys. The purpose of the current study as to examine longitudinal relations between CEA and gender on cannabis use during adolescence. The current study included a sample of 206 ninth-grade community youth (120 boys; Mage = 14.10, 55% European American) followed annually through the 12th grade. CEA was assessed with the Childhood Trauma Questionnaire and cannabis use was assessed with the Youth Risk Behavior Survey. A latent growth model was used to examine cannabis use trajectories from Grades 9 through 12. Within our initial model, elevated baseline use was associated with male gender and more severe CEA. Significant predictors of increases in cannabis use over time included elevated baseline alcohol use and the interaction between gender and CEA, such that girls with the most severe CEA had the greatest increases in cannabis use over time. These results suggest the importance of addressing CEA among adolescent girls. Given that cannabis use during adolescence is associated with a host of negative outcomes, targeted efforts to reduce use, through prevention and intervention efforts, is critical.

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