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J Youth Adolesc. 2017 Jan;46(1):28-44. doi: 10.1007/s10964-016-0575-2. Epub 2016 Sep 28.

Childhood Adversity and Early Initiation of Alcohol Use in Two Representative Samples of Puerto Rican Youth.

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New York State Psychiatric Institute-Columbia University, 1051 Riverside Dr., Unit #43, New York, NY, 10032, USA.
New York State Psychiatric Institute-Columbia University, 1051 Riverside Dr., Unit #43, New York, NY, 10032, USA.
Behavioral Sciences Research Institute University of Puerto Rico Medical Sciences Campus, PO Box 365067, San Juan PR, 00936-5067, USA.


Early alcohol use is associated with multiple negative outcomes later in life, including substance use disorders. Identification of factors related to this very early risk indicator can help inform early prevention efforts. This study prospectively examined the relationship between childhood adversities and early initiation of alcohol use (by age 14) among Puerto Rican youth, the Latino subgroup at highest risk for alcohol use disorders in adulthood. The data come from the Boricua Youth Study, a longitudinal study of Puerto Rican youth in two sites (South Bronx, New York, and the standard metropolitan area of San Juan, Puerto Rico). We focus on youth who were ages 10 and older at Wave 1 [M age at Wave 1 (SE) = 11.64(0.05), N = 1259, 48.85 % females]. Twelve childhood adversities were measured at Wave 1 and include 10 adverse childhood experiences commonly studied and two additional ones (exposure to violence and discrimination) that were deemed relevant for this study's population. Early initiation of alcohol use was determined based on youth report at Waves 1 through 3 (each wave 1 year apart). Cox proportional hazards models showed that, when considered individually, adversities reflecting child maltreatment, parental maladjustment, and sociocultural stressors were related to early initiation of alcohol use. Significant gender interactions were identified for parental emotional problems and exposure to violence, with associations found among girls only. Adversities often co-occurred, and when they were considered jointly, physical and emotional abuse, parental antisocial personality, and exposure to violence had independent associations with early alcohol use, with a stronger influence of exposure to violence in girls compared to boys. The accumulation of adversities, regardless of the specific type of exposure, increased the risk for starting to drink at a young age in a linear way. The associations between childhood adversities and early alcohol use were generally consistent across sociocultural contexts, in spite of differences in the prevalence of exposure to adversity. Our findings highlight the importance of targeting multiple adversities and expanding the notion of adversity to capture the experiences of specific groups more adequately.


Alcohol use initiation; Childhood adversities; Cumulative risk; Gender differences; Latinos; Puerto Rican

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