Academic journal article Merrill-Palmer Quarterly

School Bonding and Alcohol Use in Italian Early Adolescents: What Comes First?

Academic journal article Merrill-Palmer Quarterly

School Bonding and Alcohol Use in Italian Early Adolescents: What Comes First?

Article excerpt

Previous research has identified school bonding as protective against substance use during adolescence. However, there is still a question as to whether school involvement predicts changes in substance use or if substance use actually predicts changes in level of school bonding. This study investigated the relationship between school bonding and alcohol use, which is commonly recognized as gateway drug, during early adolescence. A three-wave longitudinal analysis was conducted on a sample composed of 161 Italian adolescents (51% boys, 49% girls, mean age = 11.14 years, standard deviation =.40). Associations were analyzed by using crossed-lagged autoregressive models in MPlus. Findings revealed that greater school involvement decreased alcohol consumption from Grade 6 to Grade 7. However, greater alcohol use decreased school involvement from Grade 7 to Grade 8. Findings of this study underlined the importance of choosing the right time for prevention.

School experiences are recognized as important factors linked to substance use (e.g., alcohol, cigarettes, and marijuana) in adolescence. Previous research has extensively documented the relationships between cigarette, alcohol, and other substance use and school-related variables during adolescence. Students who use substances report less satisfaction with school, skip school more often, earn lower grades, attend lower-track schools, and are more likely to drop out of school compared to nonusers (Bryant, Schulenberg, O'Malley, Bachman, & Johnston, 2003; Ciairano, 2004; Ciairano, Settanni, van Schuur, & Miceli, 2006; Galambos & Silbereisen, 1987; Mensch & Kandel, 1988; Paulson, Coombs, & Richardson, 1990). Thus, it is evident that substance users are less attached to school.

However, there is still a question as to whether school experience predicts changes in substance use or vice versa. That is, it is still not completely clear which variable is the predictor and which one is the outcome. As Bryant, Schulenberg, Bachman, O'Malley, and Johnston (2000) noted, there are different perspectives in the literature about the direction of the influence, both for tobacco and alcohol use. Therefore, there is no general agreement about the nature of this relationship.

Substance Use Drives the Relationship

The first perspective favors the influence of substance use in general on school experience. According to this perspective, substance use is a part of the constellation of risk behaviors that may be a prerequisite for developing school-related problems perhaps because youth who start using substances might be tempted to spend more time with deviant friends and to avoid conventional places, such as schools. The findings of some studies supported this direction of influence. For instance, in a 4-year longitudinal study, Galambos and Silbereisen (1987) revealed that drug use increased school failure 1 year later, but the opposite was not true. Engberg and Morral (2006) found that adolescents (ages 12-17 years) who participated in a substance-abuse treatment program in the United States decreased their consumption of alcohol and marijuana after the treatment and in turn improved their school attendance. Thus, some evidence suggests that substance use could influence commitment to school.

School Experience and Substance Use Are Two Sides of the Same Phenomenon

The second perspective claims that any causal direction between substance use and school experience cannot be established because they are different manifestations of the same problem. They share some common risk behaviors and occur simultaneously. In line with this approach, the general deviance hypothesis (Huba & Bentler, 1983, 1984) and the problem behavior theory (lessor & Jessor, 1977) sustain that both phenomena are manifestations of a common factor of deviance. In a review of studies on the relationship between substance use and school variables, Dewey (1999) concluded that substance use was related to low grades, low educational expectations, dropping out, absenteeism, and lack of educational plans. …

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