Exploring Triadic Family Relationship Profiles and Their Implications for Adolescents' Early Substance Initiation

Prev Sci. 2020 May;21(4):519-529. doi: 10.1007/s11121-019-01081-7.


This study examined combinations of warmth and hostility in mother-father-adolescent triadic relationships when adolescents were in 6th grade and associations with adolescent middle school substance initiation. We conducted a latent profile analysis with a sample of 687 two-parent families (52.4% of adolescents were female, mean age = 11.27 at 6th grade). These analyses revealed five profiles of triadic relationships, labeled as: cohesive families (46%, high warmth and low hostility in all three dyads), compensatory families (24%, low interparental warmth but high parent-adolescent warmth), disengaged families (13%, average to low warmth and hostility in three dyads), distressed families (9%, high hostility and low warmth in all three dyads), and conflictual families (8%, high hostility and average warmth in all three dyads). There were significant differences across triadic relationship profiles in rate of alcohol initiation during middle school. Specifically, adolescents in distressed families and conflictual families initiated alcohol at higher rates than adolescents in other types of families. Cohesive families and compensatory families initiated alcohol at the lowest rates among all five types of families. Similar patterns appeared for drunkenness and cigarettes. Implications for family-based interventions to decrease adolescent substance use and future research directions are discussed.

Keywords: Adolescence; Family conflict; Latent profile analysis; Marital relationship; Parent-child relationship; Substance use initiation; Triadic family relationships.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adolescent Behavior*
  • Child
  • Family Relations / psychology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Iowa
  • Male
  • Parenting / psychology*
  • Pennsylvania
  • Substance-Related Disorders / etiology*