This research tests a theoretical model proposing that low competence is a basic factor in early-onset adolescent substance use. The model proposes that the combination of low academic and social competence is a risk factor that is mediated through increased levels of negative affect and affiliation with drug-using peers. It is proposed that low competence is related to background factors of life stress and temperament, but these may be moderated by adaptive coping and high family support. These hypotheses are tested in a 3-year longitudinal study with a sample of N = 2,000 students, first surveyed at the beginning of 7th grade and followed over the period through end of 9th grade. A self-report questionnaire, administered in classrooms once per year, provides data on predictor variables; teacher ratings provide independent measures of students' academic and social competence. Self-report measures of cigarette, alcohol, and marijuana use are obtained in the questionnaire, enhanced with biochemical measures of CO and EtOH through expired-air samples. Structural modeling techniques are used to test hypotheses about relations between competence and reduce risk for substance use. The results will have implications for theoretical models of adolescent substance use and the design of substance abuse prevention programs.

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National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)
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Drug Abuse Epidemiology and Prevention Research Review Committee (DAPA)
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Albert Einstein College of Medicine
Public Health & Prev Medicine
Schools of Medicine
United States
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Wills, Thomas Ashby; Resko, Jody A; Ainette, Michael G et al. (2004) Smoking onset in adolescence: a person-centered analysis with time-varying predictors. Health Psychol 23:158-67
Wills, Thomas Ashby; Yaeger, Alison M; Sandy, James M (2003) Buffering effect of religiosity for adolescent substance use. Psychol Addict Behav 17:24-31
Wills, Thomas Ashby; Sandy, James M; Yaeger, Alison M (2002) Moderators of the relation between substance use level and problems: test of a self-regulation model in middle adolescence. J Abnorm Psychol 111:3-21
Wills, Thomas A; Sandy, James M; Yaeger, Alison M (2002) Stress and smoking in adolescence: a test of directional hypotheses. Health Psychol 21:122-30
Wills, T A; Cleary, S D (1999) Peer and adolescent substance use among 6th-9th graders: latent growth analyses of influence versus selection mechanisms. Health Psychol 18:453-63
Vaccaro, D; Wills, T A (1998) Stress-coping factors in adolescent substance use: test of ethnic and gender differences in samples of urban adolescents. J Drug Educ 28:257-82
Wills, T A; Cleary, S D (1996) How are social support effects mediated? A test with parental support and adolescent substance use. J Pers Soc Psychol 71:937-52
Wills, T A; Vaccaro, D; McNamara, G et al. (1996) Escalated substance use: a longitudinal grouping analysis from early to middle adolescence. J Abnorm Psychol 105:166-80
Wills, T A; McNamara, G; Vaccaro, D (1995) Parental education related to adolescent stress-coping and substance use: development of a mediational model. Health Psychol 14:464-78
Wills, T A; Vaccaro, D; McNamara, G (1994) Novelty seeking, risk taking, and related constructs as predictors of adolescent substance use: an application of Cloninger's theory. J Subst Abuse 6:1-20

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