Perceived Norms Moderate the Association Between Mental Health Symptoms and Drinking Outcomes Among At-Risk Adolescents

Published in: Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, v. 74, no. 5, Sep. 2013, p. 736-745

Posted on RAND.org on September 01, 2013

by Eric R. Pedersen, Jeremy N. V. Miles, Sarah B. Hunter, Karen Chan Osilla, Brett Ewing, Elizabeth J. D'Amico

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OBJECTIVE: There has been limited research examining the association between mental health symptoms, perceived peer alcohol norms, and alcohol use and consequences among samples of adolescents. The current study used a sample of 193 at-risk youths with a first-time alcohol and/or other drug offense in the California Teen Court system to explore the moderating role of perceived peer alcohol norms on the association between mental health symptoms and drinking outcomes. METHOD: Measures of drinking, consequences, mental health symptoms, and perceived peer alcohol norms were taken at baseline, with measures of drinking and consequences assessed again 6 months later. Regression analyses examined the association of perceived norms and mental health symptoms with concurrent and future drinking and consequences. RESULTS: We found that higher perceived drinking peer norms were associated with heavy drinking behavior at baseline and with negative alcohol consequences both at baseline and 6 months later. Also, perceived drinking norms moderated the association between mental health symptoms and alcohol-related consequences such that better mental health was related to increased risk for alcohol-related consequences both concurrently and 6 months later among those with higher baseline perceptions of peer drinking norms. CONCLUSIONS: Findings demonstrate the value of norms-based interventions, especially among adolescents with few mental health problems who are at risk for heavy drinking.

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