Longitudinal Associations Between Alcohol-Related Cognitions and Use in African American and European American Adolescent Girls

Published in: Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research [Epub February 2018]. doi:10.1111/acer.13618

Posted on RAND.org on April 11, 2018

by Dawn W. Foster, Feifei Ye, Stephanie S. O'Malley, Tammy Chung, Alison E. Hipwell, Carolyn E. Sartor

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African American (AA) girls initiate alcohol use later and drink less than European American (EA) girls, potentially reflecting differences in the development of drinking behaviors. This study examined alcohol-related cognitions: expectancies, attitudes, and intention to drink, as possible sources of variation by race in alcohol use. The aim of this study was to characterize the nature and degree of association between cognitions and use over time and by race in EA and AA girls.


Data were drawn from the longitudinal Pittsburgh Girls Study (N = 2,450), an urban population-based sample of girls and their caregivers recruited when girls were between ages 5 and 8, and assessed annually through adolescence. Cross-lagged panel models were conducted separately by race (56.2% AA, 43.8% EA) to identify patterns of association between alcohol use and cognitions from ages 12 to 17 in 2,173 girls.


Endorsement of cognitions and use was higher overall in EA than AA girls but the magnitude of cross-lagged path coefficients did not differ significantly by race. In both groups, bidirectional effects emerged between intentions and use, and alcohol use largely predicted cognitions across ages. However, intention to drink was the only alcohol-related cognition that consistently predicted subsequent use (odds ratios ranged from 1.55 to 2.71).


Although rates of alcohol use and endorsement of cognitions were greater in EA than AA girls, the anticipated racial differences in longitudinal associations between cognitions and use did not emerge, indicating that variation in associations between use and cognitions does not account for the lower prevalence of alcohol use in AA compared with EA girls. Furthermore, our finding that intention to drink is a consistent, robust predictor of subsequent alcohol use suggests the need to investigate potentially modifiable factors that influence intention to drink across racial groups.

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