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Genetic and environmental risk factors in adolescent substance use

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Background:

The present study was undertaken with the goal of understanding the causes of association between substance use and both conduct disturbance (CD) and depression in adolescent boys and girls. Method:

Multivariate genetic structural equation models were fitted to multi-informant, multi-wave, longitudinal data collected in extensive home interviews with parents and children with respect to 307 MZ male, 392 MZ female, 185 DZ male, and 187 DZ female, same-sex twin pairs aged 12–17 years from the Virginia Twin Study of Adolescent Behavioral Development (VTSABD). Results:

Although conduct disturbance and depression were moderately associated with substance use, the pattern of genetic and environmental risk differed for males and females and across the two disorders. Genetic factors were predominant in girls’ substance use whereas boys’ use was mediated primarily by shared environmental factors reflecting family dysfunction and deviant peers. The patterns of correlations across the two waves of the study were consistent with conduct disturbance leading to substance use in both males and females, but depression leading to smoking, drug use and, to a lesser extent, alcohol use in girls. Conclusions:

The comorbidity between substance use and depression, and between substance use and conduct disturbance in childhood/adolescence, probably reflects rather different mediating mechanisms – as well as a different time frame, with conduct disturbance preceding substance use but depression following it. In both, the co-occurrence partially reflected a shared liability but, in girls, genetic influences played an important role in the comorbidity involving depression, whereas in both sexes (but especially in boys) environmental factors played a substantial role. The extent to which these differences reflect genuine differences in the causal mechanisms underlying substance use and CD/depression in boys and girls revealed in the present analysis awaits replication from studies of other general population samples.
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Keywords: Substance use; conduct disorder; depression; multivariate analysis; structural equation modeling; twins

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Virginia Institute for Psychiatric and Behavioral Genetics, Virginia Commonwealth University, USA;

Publication date: July 1, 2003

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