Substance use is often found to be associated with rule-breaking behavior among adolescents. To test associations between various levels of alcohol use and self-reported problems, Chen et al (2008) analyzed responses by 11,943 15- to 18-year-olds to the YSR and to detailed questions about their consumption of alcohol.
The youths attended randomly selected schools throughout Taiwan, a country where alcohol is widely used on family occasions. Response rates were 99% for the selected schools and 90% for the selected youths attending the schools. Based on their responses to the questions about alcohol consumption, youths were divided into (a) those who had never tried alcohol; (b) those who had drunk alcohol once more than 6 months prior to the survey; (c) those who had drunk alcohol at least twice but not in the preceding 6 months; and (d) those who had drunk alcohol at least twice including at least once in the preceding 6 months. It was found that even youth who were classified as trial users (group b) had significantly higher scores on the Attention Problems, Aggressive Behavior, and Rule-Breaking Behavior (with substance use omitted) syndromes. Youth classified as past or current users (groups c and d) had significantly elevated scores on all syndromes except Social Problems.
In addition, current users had significantly higher Somatic Complaints and Aggressive Behavior syndrome scores than trial and past users. Chen et al. also reported analyses of associations between alcohol use and each item of each YSR syndrome, with demographic characteristics, family structure, use of tobacco, and other substance use controlled. The strongest associations were between endorsements of the item I don’t have much energy and both current and past alcohol use (groups c and d). The authors concluded that “this study found that even among youth with very little alcohol involvement (i.e., in the earliest stages of initiation), those with more alcohol involvement were more likely to report the presence of several emotional and behavioral disturbances . . . Primary care physicians can screen for alcohol use and use instruments that easily collect information on a range of externalizing and internalizing problems, such as the YSR to help determine the impact of alcohol and other drug use on the youth’s mental well-being” (p. 216).
Reference: Chen, C-Y., Storr, C.L., Tang, G-M., Huang, S-L., Hsiao, C.K., & Chen, W.J. (2008). Early alcohol experiences and adolescent mental health: A population-based study in Taiwan. Drug and Alcohol Dependence, 95, 209-218