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Neighborhood Moderation of Sensation Seeking Effects on Adolescent Substance Use Initiation

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Abstract

Adolescent substance use carries a considerable public health burden, and early initiation into use is especially problematic. Research has shown that trait sensation seeking increases risk for substance use initiation, but less is known about contextual factors that can potentially unmask this risk. This study utilized a diverse longitudinal subsample of youth (N = 454) from a larger study of familial alcoholism (53.1% female, 61% non-Hispanic Caucasian, 27.8% Hispanic, 11.2% other ethnicity). Study questions examined sensation seeking in early adolescence (mean age = 12.16) and its relations with later substance use initiation (mean age = 15.69), and tested whether neighborhood disadvantage moderated sensation seeking’s effects on initiation of alcohol, tobacco, and marijuana use. Neighborhood disadvantage significantly moderated the relation between sensation seeking and all three forms of substance use. For the most part, sensation seeking effects were weakened as neighborhood disadvantage increased, with the most advantaged neighborhoods exhibiting the strongest link between sensation seeking and substance use initiation. These results highlight the importance of focusing on relatively advantaged areas as potentially risky environments for the sensation seeking pathway to substance use.

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Acknowledgements

We gratefully acknowledge the contribution of study participants, and the invaluable feedback provided by Dr. Craig Enders and Dr. Rebecca White. This research study was supported by Grant R01 AA016213 from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism to Laurie Chassin, and training fellowships from the National Institute of Mental health (T32 MH018387), National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (T32 HD07376R25), and the National Institute for Drug Abuse (R25 DA026401) to Michaeline Jensen.

Author Contributions

M.J. conceived of the study, conducted statistical analyses, interpreted data, and coordinated and drafted the manuscript; L.C. is the principal investigator of the parent project, oversaw parent study design and data collection, contributed to the conceptual framework for the study, and assisted with data interpretation and drafting the manuscript; N.G. contributed to the conceptual framework for the study and assisted with data interpretation and drafting the manuscript. All authors have read and approved the final manuscript.

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Correspondence to Michaeline Jensen.

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This study was approved by the Institutional Review Board of Arizona State University.

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At every interview, written informed consent was obtained from adults and the parents of minors, and adolescents gave assent. During telephone interviews verbal consent/assent was audio recorded.

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Jensen, M., Chassin, L. & Gonzales, N.A. Neighborhood Moderation of Sensation Seeking Effects on Adolescent Substance Use Initiation. J Youth Adolescence 46, 1953–1967 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10964-017-0647-y

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