• Adolescents;
  • alcohol;
  • implicit cognitions;
  • memory associations;
  • onset;
  • parents



The aim of the current study was to examine the mediating role of alcohol-related memory associations in the relation between perceived parental drinking and the onset of adolescents' alcohol use. Gender and grade were also included in the analyses.


We tested a mediation model within a structural path modelling framework using longitudinal data (two waves).

Setting and Participants

The sample consisted of 608 Canadian adolescents (42.9% boys), who did not have any alcohol experiences at the first measurement. The adolescents were recruited from all grades 7–9 classes in a large school district in western Canada.


Alcohol-related memory associations were tested with the Word Association Test. We used adolescent self-reports of alcohol use and parental drinking.


Results clearly showed a mediation effect of alcohol-related memory associations [estimate = 0.023, 95% confidence interval (CI): 0.002–0.044). That is, parental drinking as perceived by the adolescent was related positively to alcohol-related memory associations, which in turn predicted adolescents' alcohol use a year later. Gender and grade were related to alcohol-related memory associations. That is, boys and adolescents of higher grades had more memory associations.


Children appear to form memory associations related to alcohol before they ever drink alcohol themselves, and these associations appear to mediate the link between their perceptions of their parents' drinking and their own initial alcohol use.