Children with a parent diagnosed with substance abuse disorder (SUD) show increased risk for greater drug use, delinquency, and their engagement in health-risking sexual behavior, suggesting maladaptive choice processes with great social and public-health costs (e.g., Kirisci et al., 2007;Reynolds et al., 2007;Tarter et l., 2002). Little is known, however, about the mechanisms that underlie the decisions to engage in these behaviors. We propose to conduct hypothesis-driven secondary data analyses to test a conceptual model that links parental SUD and childhood dysregulation to the development of poor decision-making skills and increased incidence of health-risking behaviors later in life. We will leverage data collected through the Center for Education and Drug Abuse Research (CEDAR;NIH# 5P50 DA05605), using its unique longitudinal dataset that includes validated measures of transmissible liability for SUD risk (Kirisci et al., 2009;Vanyukov et al., 2009), a battery of laboratory-based measures of decision-making competence (DMC;Parker &Fischhoff, 2005), and adult assessments of substance abuse, antisocial behaviors, and sexual behavior. We intend to address five main research questions in the proposed project. First, we plan to identify classes of developmental trajectories for psychological regulation. We will conduct analyses to characterize different patterns of intra-individual change in psychological regulation from preadolescence to emerging adulthood. Second, we plan to refine the measurement of DMC, which can be defined as adherence to normative, rational standards when making decisions (Parker &Fischhoff, 2005) by expanding the construct to encompass excessive risk-taking and insensitivity to expected value. Third, we will examine the associations between family and parenting variables on subsequent DMC and health-risking outcomes later in life. Fourth, we will examine the effects of developmental trajectories of psychological regulation on DMC. While research has linked self-regulative processes to advantageous decision making, such studies have largely relied on cross-sectional designs, and are thus silent on the progression from development of self-regulation to adolescent decision making. Finally, we will test the extent to which poor DMC can predict future health-risking behaviors, such as drug use, criminal behavior, high-risk sexual behavior, and inter-partner violence.
The current project has direct relevance to identifying specific vulnerability factors which may be associated with poor decision making. Further, the proposed project has the potential to provide a deeper conceptualization of the mechanisms that drive real-life health-risking behaviors. This work has the potential to yield insights that may help researchers develop interventions aimed at promoting better decision making in children and adolescents in high-risk populations, ultimately reducing drug use and associated problems.