Preadolescent sensation seeking and early adolescent stress relate to at-risk adolescents' substance use by age 15

Addict Behav. 2017 Jun;69:1-7. doi: 10.1016/j.addbeh.2017.01.005. Epub 2017 Jan 6.


Background and aims: Substance use during adolescence can lead to the development of substance use disorders and other psychosocial problems. These negative outcomes are especially likely for individuals who use substances at earlier ages and those who engage in heavier use during adolescence, behaviors which are both more common among youth at higher risk for developing a substance use disorder, such as those with a family history of substance use disorders (FH+). Factors such as increased sensation seeking and greater exposure to stressors among FH+ youth may influence these associations. Therefore, the aim of this study was to examine the relative and unique contributions of sensation seeking during preadolescence and exposure to stressors during early to mid-adolescence to cumulative substance use by mid-adolescence among FH+ youth.

Methods: A total of 167 mostly Hispanic FH+ youth (ages 12-15) who were participating in an ongoing longitudinal study were included in these analyses. Participants' data from biennial waves covering approximately 2.5years were used. Self-reported sensation seeking, exposure to stressors, and substance use were compared.

Results: Higher sensation seeking during preadolescence and greater exposure to stressors during early to mid-adolescence were both associated with substance use by age 15. These factors differentiated Substance Users from Non-Users, and also related to level of substance use.

Conclusions: Elevated sensation seeking and exposure to stressors are both associated with substance use by age 15 among high-risk youth. Additionally, these factors can distinguish youth who develop heavier substance use during this important developmental period.

Keywords: Adolescence; At-risk youth; Family history; Longitudinal; Personality; Stress.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adolescent Behavior / psychology*
  • Child
  • Child Behavior / psychology*
  • Comorbidity
  • Female
  • Hispanic or Latino / psychology
  • Hispanic or Latino / statistics & numerical data
  • Humans
  • Impulsive Behavior*
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Risk Factors
  • Risk-Taking*
  • Sensation
  • Southwestern United States / epidemiology
  • Stress, Psychological / epidemiology*
  • Stress, Psychological / psychology
  • Substance-Related Disorders / epidemiology*
  • Substance-Related Disorders / psychology