Category: Child / Adolescent - Anxiety
Anxiety sensitivity (AS), or the fear of anxious symptoms and the belief that these symptoms may have negative physical, social, and cognitive consequences1, is one personality trait that emerges in early adolescence and may be linked to alcohol use. However, findings are equivocal as to whether elevated AS during adolescence directly predicts alcohol use2. Adolescents do report increases in positive alcohol use expectancies (e.g., alcohol may serve to improve social situations) during early adolescence, and these expectancies are associated with alcohol use3. Therefore, positive alcohol use expectancies may be particularly salient for adolescents with AS, such that individuals who believe that alcohol may improve social situations or reduce negative feelings might be more likely to drink alcohol to avoid consequences associated with anxiety.
The current study examined whether positive alcohol use expectancies and anxiety sensitivity in early adolescence predicted changes in alcohol use throughout adolescence. Participants were 246 adolescents recruited to complete a study examining the development of risky behaviors during adolescence. Participants completed a baseline assessment (Age M= 13.06) of AS and positive alcohol use expectancies (AEQ-AB). Participants reported on their alcohol use habits during annual follow-up appointments for the next six years. Results of univariate latent growth curve modeling suggest that AS alone was not a significant predictor of baseline alcohol use or change over time in alcohol use (p>0.05), after controlling for gender, age, and self-reported anxiety. However, AS in early adolescence was found to be a significant predictor of increases in alcohol use across adolescence for youth who reported greater positive alcohol use expectancies (p < 0.05).
The results suggest that adolescents who are more sensitive to symptoms of anxiety, fear the potential effects of anxiety (e.g. appearing nervous to other people), and hold positive beliefs about the effects of alcohol (e.g. alcohol may reduce tension or improve social situations) exhibit greater increases in alcohol use over the course of adolescence. Given the equivocal findings as to whether AS is significantly associated with alcohol use during adolescence2, these results indicate that beliefs regarding the positive effects of alcohol use are an important moderator in this relation and may increase risk for alcohol use.
1Reiss & McNally, 1985
2Malmberg et al., 2013
3Clark et al., 2011