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J Abnorm Psychol. 2011 May;120(2):322-35. doi: 10.1037/a0021813.

Alcohol use trajectories and the ubiquitous cat's cradle: cause for concern?

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Department of Psychological Sciences, University of Missouri, Columbia, MO 65211, USA.

Erratum in

  • J Abnorm Psychol. 2011 May;120(2):510.


In recent years, trajectory approaches to characterizing individual differences in the onset and course of substance involvement have gained popularity. Previous studies have sometimes reported 4 prototypic courses: (a) a consistently "low" group, (b) an "increase" group, (c) a "decrease" group, and (d) a consistently "high" group. Although not always recovered, these trajectories are often found, despite these studies varying in the ages of the samples studied and the duration of the observation periods employed. Here, the authors examined the consistency with which these longitudinal patterns of heavy drinking were recovered in a series of latent class growth analyses that systematically varied the age of the sample at baseline, the duration of observation, and the number and frequency of measurement occasions. Data were drawn from a 4-year, 8-wave panel study of college student drinking (N = 3,720). Despite some variability across analyses, there was a strong tendency for these prototypes to emerge regardless of the participants' age at baseline and the duration of observation. These findings highlight potential problems with commonly employed trajectory-based approaches and the need to not over-reify these constructs.

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