Background: Adolescent substance use is a significant public health concern due to its prevalence and associated negative consequences. Although many adolescents use substances, there is substantial heterogeneity in their use patterns. Identifying risk and protective factors that differentiate adolescents with different substance use profiles is important for preventing negative consequences for those at risk.

Objective: This study identified distinct latent profiles of substance use by considering adolescents’ involvement in multiple common and illicit substances as well as related problems and examined the extent to which individual and contextual factors in the family, peer, school, and neighborhood environments were related to adolescents’ membership of substance use profiles.

Method: Data came from 9,155 high school students (51% female; 74% European American) who completed electronic surveys in the 2009 Dane County Youth Assessment (DCYA). Latent class analysis (LCA) was conducted to identify profiles of adolescent substance involvement and related problems. Multinomial logistic regression was conducted to examine associations between individual and contextual factors and latent class membership.

Results: LCA identified four distinct profiles of adolescent substance use characterized by both licit and illicit substance use and related problems: Abstainers (56.3%), Alcohol-only users (25.6%), Alcohol-cigarette-marijuana users (13.8%), and Problem polysubstance users (4.3%). Controlling for demographics, individual and contextual factors were associated with adolescents’ likelihoods of membership in substance use profiles; notably, the associations varied to some extent across substance use profiles.

Conclusions: Substance use is heterogeneous among adolescents. Effects of risk and protective factors on substance use vary depending on adolescents’ substance use patterns.

Jinni Su, Andrew J. Supple & Sally I-Chun Kuo
Substance Use & Misuse, Volume 53, 2018 – Issue 5