Deviant peer affiliation has long been recognized as a determinative risk factor for adolescent substance use. However, the heterogeneous trajectories of deviant peer affiliation in at-risk youth, and how these distinct trajectories contribute to substance use have been underexplored. Additionally, several studies have found that child abuse experiences are associated with deviant peer affiliation in adolescence. Yet, the impact of different types of abuse on adolescent deviant peer affiliations remains largely unexplored. Guided by developmental psychopathology perspectives and differential association theory, this study aimed to: 1) identify heterogeneity in growth trajectories of adolescent deviant peer affiliation; 2) examine whether the growth trajectories differ by types of child abuse; and 3) investigate how the growth trajectories were associated with adolescent substance use.
Using the Longitudinal Studies of Child Abuse and Neglect (LONGSCAN), this study included 1,090 youth (52.6% female, 56.3% Black, and 27.4% low income). Deviant peer affiliation was assessed at ages 12, 14, and 16, using 13 items from the modified version of the Youth Risk Behavior and Monitoring the Future Survey. Each type of child abuse (i.e., physical, sexual, and emotional abuse) was assessed at age 12 using self-reports of life time abuse experiences. Adolescent substance use was assessed at age 18 using self-reported alcohol, tobacco, and marijuana use in the past year. Adolescent’s gender, race, and household income were used as covariates. A series of analyses (i.e., latent class growth analysis, multinomial logistic regression, and multiple binary logistic regressions) were conducted using Mplus 7.11.
Fit indices (i.e., entropy, AIC, BIC, adjusted BIC, VLMR and BLRT) indicated that three-class solution was the optimal model. The classes were labeled as follows: 1) slightly ascending trajectory class (82.9%); 2) steep ascending trajectory class (12.9%); and 3) declining trajectory class (4.2%). Compared to the slightly ascending trajectory class, adolescents who had been emotionally abused had 1.131 times higher odds of being in the steep ascending trajectory class (95% CI= 1.014-1.263). Compared to the slightly ascending trajectory class, adolescents who had experienced sexual abuse had 1.381 times higher odds of membership in the declining trajectory class (95% CI=1.093-1.744). Multiple logistic regression analyses indicated that more youth in the steep ascending trajectory class drink alcohol and smoke marijuana than those in the slightly ascending and declining trajectory classes. Additionally, more youth in the steep ascending and declining trajectory classes smoke cigarettes than those in the slightly ascending trajectory class.
Conclusion and implications:
This study’s findings offer several meaningful implications for practice. First, emotionally abused youth were more likely to show a sharp increase in deviant peer affiliation over time, which underscores the need for early prevention efforts for this population. Likewise, targeted peer-relation intervention programs could be implemented for sexually abused youth, in order to prevent the early initiation of deviant peer affiliation among this high-risk group. To address substance use during late adolescence, practitioners could routinely assess and monitor deviant peer affiliation in adolescents and tailor preventive interventions for substance use to those who affiliate with delinquent and deviant friends.