A critical but understudied area of research is why people stop using drugs, especially African American adults. This question is the primary focus of the proposed study. African Americans have the same or less substance use as adolescents compared to Whites, but as they age into adulthood they are more likely than Whites to initiate drug use, less likely to desist use, and more likely to develop use disorders. Moreover, drug use significantly impacts health, with adult drug use problems being more evident in older African Americans than in Whites, such as higher drug-related mortality and morbidity. We address this important public health issue using data spanning more than 35 years from a comprehensive developmental epidemiological study of a community cohort of urban African Americans first studied at age 6 (N=1242), then in adolescence, and at ages 32 and 42. This inner city Chicago cohort represents a 1960 birth cohort, considered to have the highest rates of adolescent drug use. Information from mothers, teachers, and official school, criminal, and death records are integrated with data from cohort members to build a study that provides an invaluable opportunity to examine the impact of life events on patterns of substance use over the life course.
The specific aims are to: 1) examine the impact of individual life events on long-term patterns of drug use;2) identify conditions under which life events impact long-term drug use patterns, and 3) determine what individual-level or contextual factors moderate the impact of life events on long-term patterns of drug use. The proposed project draws on the age-graded theory of social control from criminological literature and applies it to substance use, extending our understanding of the relationship between social ties and desistance from deviance (Sampson &Laub, 1993;Laub &Sampson, 2003). Few positive life events beyond marriage, work, and military service have been studied in this regard, and there has been little to no attention paid t negative life events. Thus, we seek to study a wider array of life events, both positive and negative, that can alter substance use and investigate conditions under which life events impact substance use patterns. This work will extend our understanding of the role of social ties stemming from individual life events as potential turning points in substance use. Yet, not everyone who experiences a life event will alter their substance use trajectory. Prior research has found the quality of life events to matter. In this project, we investigate additional conditios under which life events impact substance use desistance such as the quantity and combinations of life events, and timing and ordering of life events. We also investigate moderating effects from stable individual differences (e.g., self-control) and adult contextual influences (e.g., histry of depression). The proposed project uses longitudinal methodologies (e.g., hierarchical linear modeling) and adopts a person-oriented approach, considering the individual as a whole to better understand stability and change in substance use. Findings will inform intervention development by identifying pivotal influences in adulthood that facilitate desistance from substance use.

Public Health Relevance

Knowledge about influences leading to desistance from substance use is critical, especially among African Americans, who as they age into adulthood are more likely than Whites to initiate drug use, less likely to desist use, and more likely to develop use disorders. Moreover, African Americans experience disproportionately poorer health and higher mortality in mid adulthood often related to their drug use, which is of great public health significance. By exploring a wide array of life events that can alter substance use, this research spanning more than 35 years in the lives of a community cohort of African American men and women will make unique and important contributions to understanding why people stop using drugs and in turn inform intervention development.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)
Research Project (R01)
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Study Section
Social Psychology, Personality and Interpersonal Processes Study Section (SPIP)
Program Officer
Etz, Kathleen
Project Start
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University of Missouri-St. Louis
Saint Louis
United States
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Doherty, Elaine Eggleston; Jaecques, Brittany; Green, Kerry M et al. (2018) Young Adult Victimization and Midlife Consequences: Sensitization or Steeling Effects of Childhood Adversity? Violence Vict 33:239-258
Green, Kerry M; Doherty, Elaine E; Ensminger, Margaret E (2017) Long-term consequences of adolescent cannabis use: Examining intermediary processes. Am J Drug Alcohol Abuse 43:567-575
Zebrak, Katarzyna A; Green, Kerry M (2017) The role of young adult social bonds, substance problems, and sexual risk in pathways between adolescent substance use and midlife risky sexual behavior among urban African Americans. Psychol Addict Behav 31:828-838
Doherty, Elaine Eggleston; Cwick, Jaclyn M; Green, Kerry M et al. (2016) Examining the Consequences of the ""Prevalent Life Events"" of Arrest and Incarceration among an Urban African-American Cohort. Justice Q 33:970-999
Doherty, Elaine Eggleston; Cwick, Jaclyn M (2016) Unpacking the Complexity of Life Events and Desistance: An Application of Conjunctive Analysis of Case Configurations to Developmental and Life Course Criminology. J Dev Life Course Criminol 2:45-63
Doherty, Elaine Eggleston; Bersani, Bianca E (2016) Understanding the Mechanisms of Desistance at the Intersection of Race, Gender, and Neighborhood Context. J Res Crime Delinq 53:681-710
Fothergill, Kate; Ensminger, Margaret E; Doherty, Elaine E et al. (2016) Pathways from Early Childhood Adversity to Later Adult Drug Use and Psychological Distress: A Prospective Study of a Cohort of African Americans. J Health Soc Behav 57:223-39
Zebrak, Katarzyna A; Green, Kerry M (2016) Mutual Influences Between Parental Psychological Distress and Alcohol Use and Child Problem Behavior in a Cohort of Urban African Americans. J Fam Issues 37:1869-1890
Strong, Carol; Juon, Hee-Soon; Ensminger, Margaret E (2016) Effect of Adolescent Cigarette Smoking on Adulthood Substance Use and Abuse: The Mediating Role of Educational Attainment. Subst Use Misuse 51:141-54
Assini-Meytin, Luciana C; Green, Kerry M (2015) Long-term consequences of adolescent parenthood among African-American urban youth: a propensity score matching approach. J Adolesc Health 56:529-35

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