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The relationship between childhood depressive symptoms and problem alcohol use in early adolescence: findings from a large longitudinal population-based study


Marianne van den Bree, Department of Psychological Medicine, School of Medicine, Cardiff University, Heath Park, Cardiff CF14 4XN, UK. E-mail:


Aims  Depressive symptomatology can increase risk of development of alcohol problems in young people. Tension reduction and family interactional theories may explain the relationship between depression and problematic alcohol use in youth. This study addresses the nature of the longitudinal relationship between these two behaviours. The available literature is currently inconclusive about whether there are gender differences in these relationships; this is also examined.

Design  The association between childhood depressive behaviours and adolescence problematic alcohol use was examined using ordered logistic regression models. Evidence of gender differences and the impact of relevant covariates on these relations were examined. Missing data were imputed using a Multiple Imputation by Chained Equation (MICE) approach.

Settings  The Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC), a large UK population-based birth cohort.

Participants  A total of 4220 British boys and girls.

Measurements  Depressive symptomatology was assessed in childhood (mean age = 10.6, SD = 0.2) using the Short Mood and Feelings Questionnaire (SMFQ). Problematic alcohol use was assessed from several questions queried in adolescence (mean age = 13.8, SD = 0.2).

Findings  Childhood depressive symptoms were associated with increased risk of problematic alcohol use in early adolescence for girls [odds ratio (OR) = 1.14, P = 0.016] but not boys. This association for girls weakened (OR = 1.12, P = 0.058) when a priori selected covariates were taken into account, particularly the family and greater social environment.

Conclusions  Problematic alcohol use in girls (but not boys) is associated with prior depressive symptoms. This association may be attributable to several family and social environment factors, suggesting that a family interactional theoretical model may explain these findings.