Background: A great deal of research has emerged on the comorbidity between alcohol misuse and psychological symptoms (e.g., depression, anxiety, and antisocial behavior or conduct disorder) in adolescence. Research has also shown that personality traits underlie vulnerability to alcohol use and psychological symptoms, but how personality moderates this association has not been comprehensively examined. The goals of this study are to clarify (i) whether early alcohol use effects the rate of change of psychological symptoms and vice versa, (ii) whether initial levels and rate of change in both domains vary according to individual differences in personality traits, and (iii) whether personality moderates the relationship between alcohol use and psychological symptoms.
Methods: Self-reported alcohol use, depression, anxiety, and antisocial behavior were collected from 393 adolescents at four separate time points across an 18-month period. Parallel growth models were used to assess the main objectives of the study. Personality traits [anxiety sensitivity (AS), hopelessness (H), impulsivity (IMP), and sensation seeking (SS)] were included as time-invariant predictors of initial levels and rates of change of each construct.
Results: The results indicated that elevated levels of depression predicted faster rates of increase in alcohol use. Personality-specific relationships were demonstrated across all models. IMP was shown to moderate the relationship between alcohol use and depression, suggesting that adolescents who showed a susceptibility to elevated levels of IMP, and heavier drinking were less likely to demonstrate a normative decline in depression. Adolescents with higher levels of AS and anxiety were more likely to show a faster rate of increase in alcohol use.
Conclusions: These results highlight the importance of examining personality traits in studying the associations between alcohol use and psychological symptoms.