Influence of Conduct Problems and Depressive Symptomatology on Adolescent Substance Use

Conduct problems and depressive symptoms in the 8th grade are more predictive of later substance use in the 12th grade than those that manifest in 10th grade.


The Issue:

Underage alcohol use leads to 2.4 million injuries and 3,100 deaths a year. In order to target prevention and intervention programs for adolescents, it would be helpful to know which early predictors of substance use most influence youth. The current literature offers competing hypotheses regarding whether distal (earlier, such as in 8th grade) mental health problems (conduct problems and depressive symptoms) or more proximal (12th grade) problems are associated with substance use. Conduct problems include stealing, trespassing, vandalism, and getting into fights. Depressive symptoms range from feelings of sadness and helplessness to loss of pleasure in normal activities.

Key Findings

  • 8th grade conduct problems had a stronger influence on alcohol and marijuana use through 12th grade than problems that show up in the 10th grade.

  • 8th grade depressive symptoms had the strongest effect on later cigarette use.


By isolating significant risk factors for substance use, early prevention and intervention programs can be appropriately targeted.

About the Study:

Researchers used Monitoring the Future Study data collected from 1991 to 1997 for 2,000 students every two years.