Objective: There is strong evidence that depression anticipates later drinking problems among adults. These associations have not been consistently documented during adolescence, perhaps because little attention has been given to individual differences in peer relationships, which are the primary setting for adolescent alcohol consumption. This study investigated associations between depressive affect and alcohol misuse as moderated by peer group acceptance.
Method: A community sample of 1,048 Swedish youth provided self-reports of depressive symptoms and intoxication frequency at annual intervals across the middle school years (seventh grade: M = 13.21 years old; eighth grade: M = 14.27 years old; ninth grade: M = 15.26 years old). Peer nominations provided a measure of individual acceptance.
Results: Growth curve analyses revealed differences in the extent to which initial levels of depressive symptoms predicted the slope of increase in intoxication frequency. Higher levels of depressive symptoms at the outset anticipated sharp increases in intoxication frequency from seventh to ninth grades for low-accepted youth but not for average- or high-accepted youth.
Conclusions: poor peer relations and depressive affect are vulnerabilities that set the stage for escalating adolescent alcohol misuse. Across the middle school years, when most youth have their first experiences with alcohol, peer difficulties exacerbated the tendency of depressed youth to drink to excess.