Alcohol, tobacco and cannabis use in adolescence is associated with adverse outcomes. Characterizing adolescent substance misusers, however, is difficult due to the wide range of risk and protective factors linked to substance use. The aim of the present study was to examine the role of the Individual, Family, School, Peer, and Social Environment on alcohol (lifetime and risky), tobacco (risky only), and cannabis use (lifetime and riskiness).
Data were analyzed from a national sample of 5,680 adolescents, capturing substance use behavior alongside risk and protective factors across Individual, Family, School, Peer and Social domains. We applied a sophisticated machine learning classifier to develop models of alcohol, tobacco and cannabis initiation and misuse.
We found highly accurate (area under curve of receiver-operator-characteristic for out-of-sample performance was > .88) and replicable (over multiple iterations and in comparison with permuted outcomes) dissociable psychosocial profiles of alcohol, tobacco and cannabis use. Alongside common predictors (peer relations and externalizing behavior), dissociable risk and resilience factors were observed. Adolescent profiles of alcohol use were distinguished by the contribution of multiple domains. In contrast, tobacco use was characterized by a small number of individual variables, including female gender and poor perceived academic position. Cannabis use was differentiated by the distinct contribution of Individual risk factors, in particular male gender and feelings of anger. Differential associations were also evident, with the strength and direction of association differing substantially across substances.
This study indicates that the relationship between the environment and substance use is more complex than previously thought.
Amanda Fitzgerald , Naoise Mac Giollabhui , Louise Dolphin, Robert Whelan, Barbara Dooley
PLOS ONE, August 30, 2018