, Volume 1, Issue 4, pp 199-212

Ethnic and Gender Differences in Psychosocial Risk, Protection, and Adolescent Alcohol Use

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Theoretical models suggest that many diverse psychosocial factors contribute to the etiology of substance use among youth. It has been suggested that substance use is a function of the total number of etiologic factors, rather than a specific type or set of factors. This study examined whether cumulative psychosocial risk and protection measured in the 7th grade predicted alcohol use in the 9th grade across ethnically diverse samples of adolescents. Participants consisted of black (n = 775) and Hispanic (n = 467) inner-city youth and white suburban youth (n = 708). Prevalence rates for alcohol use and risk/protection varied more widely based on ethnic group compared to gender. Black youth reported the fewest risk factors and lowest levels of alcohol use, white youth reported the most risk factors and highest levels of alcohol use, and Hispanic youth reported the fewest protective factors and intermediate levels of alcohol use. Despite these differences, structural equation modeling indicated that a latent factor consisting of cumulative risk, protection, and their interaction significantly predicted later alcohol use for the combined sample as well as for each ethnic/gender subgroup. However, the proportion of variance explained in alcohol use varied across subgroups, and moderator analyses indicated that protection significantly buffered the effects of risk differentially across subgroups. The strongest protective effects were observed among black inner-city youth. Findings suggest that prevention approaches should focus on enhancing protection in addition to reducing risk, particularly among youth with lower levels of psychosocial protection.