The present study prospectively examined associations between childhood neighborhood context and symptoms of alcohol use disorder, nicotine dependence, and cannabis use disorder. In our analyses, we addressed two central research questions. First, is childhood neighborhood context, objectively measured at age 10, associated with alcohol use disorder, nicotine dependence, and cannabis use disorder symptoms at age 39? Second, does participants’ standing in the socioeconomic life course markers during the transition to adulthood (age 30) help explain the impact of childhood neighborhood context on the disorder symptoms almost 3 decades later? Potential gender differences were also examined.
Methods: Data came from the Seattle Social Development Project (n=677), a panel study examining a broad range of developmental outcomes from ages 10 to 39. Three disorder symptoms were assessed using the DSM-IV-based Diagnostic Interview Schedule. Childhood neighborhood data consisted of variables from the 1990 national census. Socioeconomic life course correlates were represented using educational attainment and employment status. Covariates included baseline symptoms of psychopathology, baseline substance use, gender, ethnicity, and childhood socioeconomic status at the family level. Zero-inflated negative binomial (ZINB) regression was used as the main modeling strategy.
Results: Results suggest that childhood neighborhood context at age 10, particularly neighborhood stability, lessens problematic alcohol use and possibly cannabis use nearly 3 decades later. The current study findings suggest that an individual’s standing in socioeconomic correlates at age 30, particularly educational attainment, exerted independent effects on problematic nicotine and cannabis use. Results also found that the impact of childhood neighborhood context on nicotine dependence symptoms might be stronger for men.
Discussion: The current findings suggest that living in a stable neighborhood during childhood may be an important factor for alcohol and cannabis use disorder symptoms among adults and for nicotine dependence disorder symptoms among men. Community-based prevention efforts might provide effective guidance for addressing community stability and thus discouraging the development and persistence of problematic substance use in adulthood. The current study also suggests that individuals’ standing in the socioeconomic life course markers should be considered in social work policy and prevention efforts, because it exerts an independent impact on problematic substance use during adulthood. Taken together, our study findings remind us that prevention efforts can and should start in childhood and additionally identify intervention targets that might gain salience later in life.