Adolescent Alcohol Use Is Positively Associated With Later Depression in a Population-Based U.K. Cohort
Alcohol use and internalizing problems are often positively associated during adolescence and adulthood. However, the basis of this relationship remains poorly understood, and longitudinal data collected in population-based samples could improve the development of etiological models.
Using a prospective population-based U.K. cohort, the current study examined the relationship between frequency of alcohol during adolescence (ages 13–15, N = 7,100) with problems with depression and anxiety at average age 17 years 10 months (n = 4,292).
Analyses were conducted separately by sex and adjusted by the inclusion of potential individual- and familial-level confounders.
The goal of the study was to examine whether adolescent alcohol use behavior was related to problems with later episodes of depression and anxiety, using a population-based sample of U.K. participants.
Results indicated that individuals who were using alcohol more frequently at ages 13–15 were more likely to experience episodes of depression as late adolescents (age ∼18). The strength of the association was similar for boys and girls. There was insufficient evidence of an association with anxiety.
- Among boys, alcohol use frequency was positively associated with later depression but not anxiety. This association was robust to adjustment for covariates/confounders.
- Among girls, alcohol use frequency was related to later depression and anxiety in univariable analyses. In multivariable analyses, only the association with depression remained after adjustment for covariates/confounders.
Results were comparable across sexes, although the effect size of alcohol use frequency was higher among boys.
Higher adolescent alcohol use, even at sub-clinical levels, is associated with an increased risk of later problems with depression but may not be associated with an aggregate measure of anxiety.
These findings suggest that more frequent adolescent alcohol use could be an indicator of, or risk factor for, later problems with depression.
Numerous studies have reported a positive association – frequently longitudinal in nature – between clinical/diagnostic levels of alcohol problems and depression. The current findings extend that work and contribute to previous evidence that a nonclinical measure of alcohol use is related to clinical depression.
This observation suggests that the public health costs of alcohol use are not limited to a selected (e.g., clinically affected) group.
Future research should consider the possibility of differential relationships between multiple measures of adolescent alcohol use and distinct internalizing outcomes later in development.