At-Risk Depressive Symptoms and Alcohol Use Trajectories in Adolescence: A Person-Centred Analysis of Co-Occurrence

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Abstract

Long-term longitudinal studies that examine whether there are distinct trajectories of at-risk depressive symptoms and alcohol use across the high school years (e.g., high co-occurrence) are rare in normative samples of adolescent boys and girls; yet, this assessment is of critical importance for developing effective prevention and intervention strategies. Moreover, the role of self-regulation and novelty-seeking behavior in differentiating among distinct subgroups of adolescents is not clear. To address these gaps, the present study sought to identify subgroups of adolescent boys and girls that indicated at-risk trajectories across the high school years for both depressive symptoms and alcohol use, and examined the role of delay of gratification and novelty seeking at baseline in differentiating among the subgroups. Canadian adolescents (N = 4,412; 49 % female) were surveyed at four time points (grades 9, 10, 11, and 12). Parallel process latent class growth analyses revealed four distinct subgroups for both boys and girls, encompassing high co-occurrence, depressive symptoms only, alcohol use only, and low co-occurrence. Across gender, delay of gratification at baseline differentiated among the four subgroups, with the High Co-Occurrence Group group scoring the lowest and the Low Co-Occurrence Group the highest. Lower novelty-seeking scores at baseline were associated more with being in the Depressive Symptoms Only Group relative to the other groups, particularly the Alcohol Use Only Group for boys. Thus, delay of gratification and novelty seeking may be useful in identifying youth at risk for co-occurring depressive symptoms and alcohol use trajectories, as well as at-risk trajectories for only one of these behaviors.