Category: Addictive Behaviors

Symposium

Association Between Anxiety Symptoms and Alcohol and Cannabis Use in Adolescents

Friday, November 17
1:45 PM - 3:15 PM
Location: Sapphire 410, Level 4, Sapphire Level

Keywords: Addictive Behaviors | Anxiety Sensitivity | Distress Tolerance
Presentation Type: Symposium

Anxiety is associated with substance use problems but the mechanisms underlying this association are unclear. Anxiety sensitivity (fear of anxiety-related sensations; AS) and distress tolerance (capacity to withstand emotional distress; DT) represent distinct transdiagnostic constructs implicated in multiple manifestations of anxiety that may also underlie substance use problems and explain their associations. We will report findings from two cross-sectional studies of adolescents.


First, we examined whether AS and DT accounted for the relations between symptoms of three anxiety disorders (generalized anxiety, social anxiety, and panic) and alcohol problems in adolescents (N=534). AS statistically mediated multiple anxiety–alcohol associations, but DT did not. These findings provided preliminary evidence suggesting AS may be an important transdiagnostic target for alcohol prevention programs for those in early adolescence that experience elevated anxiety symptoms.


Second, we used a larger sample of adolescents (N=3002) to examine the unique contributions of AS, DT, and negative urgency (propensity to respond impulsively to negative emotion; NU) in explaining associations between anxiety symptoms and cannabis and alcohol use problems. When mediators were entered simultaneously, NU accounted for a significant covariance between anxiety symptoms and substance use problems above and beyond that of the other processes. AS and DT did not account for positive associations between anxiety symptoms and substance use problems. AS was a suppressor variable in some models examining cannabis use problems in that higher anxiety was associated with higher AS, which was associated with less cannabis use problems. Thus, NU may be an important mechanism underlying the relationship between various types of anxiety and substance use problems in adolescence, and may be a promising target for preventive interventions.


These studies suggest associations between anxiety and problem substance use in adolescents is explained by underlying transdiagnostic constructs; and that AS and NU in particular are important processes to examine both in future research.

Kate Wolitzky-Taylor

Associate Professor
UCLA

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