Children of alcoholics (COAs) are a large and critical component of the underage drinking population. They have a 4 to 10 time's greater risk of developing clinically significant alcohol problems, an earlier onset of drinking, and a more rapid progression from alcohol use to abuse. The major goal of this application is to obtain critical data regarding key risk and protective factors from early childhood to predict adolescent substance use and other risky behaviors in a high risk sample characterized by parents'alcohol problems and a demographically matched control group. There is ample evidence from the general psychological literature that early intervention is most effective in preventing trajectoris of risk, especially in high risk populations. Thus, knowledge about predictors of substance use beginning in infancy is crucial for determining the content of early intervention targeted at processes that may impact substance use risk among COAs. Targeting developmental processes that are of etiological significance for substance use and focusing on reducing or bolstering key risk and protective mechanisms may be highly effective as a prevention strategy for reducing substance abuse risk among COAs. This is the only sample of COAs with multi-method (observational, neuropsychological, parent, child, and teacher report) assessments of key risk and protective mechanisms (attachment, parenting quality, self-regulation, behavior problems) beginning in infancy. It is expected that the results from the current application will inform the timing and content of a prevention program focused on precursors of underage drinking and drug use among COAs. The sample will consist of 227 (102 controls, 125 COAs) families who were recruited in infancy (111 girls and 116 boys). Multi-method assessments of stage salient developmental outcomes as well as potential risk and protective mechanisms were conducted at 12, 18, 24, and 36 months of child age, with follow-up assessments in kindergarten, 4th, 6th, and 8th grades. These children will be entering high school and in the current application we propose to assess substance use and other risky behaviors as well as proximal predictors of risk such as parental monitoring, peer use, delinquency, and substance use cognitions (expectancies, motives, norms).
Key aims tested will be as follows: to examine the role of trajectories of behavior problems from 18 months to high school as predictors of adolescent substance use;to examine the role of self-regulation as mediating or moderating the association between parents'alcohol problems and trajectories of substance use from early to late adolescence;and to examine the role of parental warmth/sensitivity and/or attachment security in infancy. The results will be used to develop an early intervention program for children of alcoholics designed to reduce substance use risk among these high risk children. Data from the current application will be critical to inform the timing and content of this early interventio program.
This study is based on the cascade model of the development of substance use onset applied to a high risk group of children and their families. This research will increase our understanding of child, family, and contextual factors that may interact over time in predicting developmental changes in substance use and behavior problems among children of parents with alcohol problems. Greater understanding of these risk and protective factors beginning in early childhood will allow us to determine timing and content of interventions to prevent the development of substance use and mental health problems among these high risk children.