Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Substance Use and Early Marriage

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Substance Use and Early Marriage

Article excerpt

Prior work indicates that substance use is related to adolescent marriage. We describe two different processes that may account for this relationship and hypothesize patterns of association that would be consistent or inconsistent with each. Using data from a study that followed west coast youth from 7th grade to young adulthood (N = 3,324), we assessed the effects of cigarette, alcohol, and marijuana use in 7th and 10th grade on the probability of marriage prior to age 20. When gender, race, and SES were controlled, cigarette use in adolescence, but not other substance use, was associated with early marriage. Low educational attainment and early unwed parenthood each uniquely mediated this association. These results suggest that the link between substance use and early marriage reflects a disposition toward risky or unconventional behavior, not the judgment-impairing effects of drug and alcohol use.

Key Words: adolescence, early marriage, early unwed parenthood, impulsivlty, sensation seeking, substance use.

Drug use has a number of serious consequences for youth; among them is thought to be a heightened probability of adolescent marriage (Chassin, Presson, Sherman, & Edwards, 1992; Newcomb & Bentler, 1988). Marriage in adolescence has been associated with several negative socioeconomic outcomes. Individuals who marry in adolescence subsequently earn less, hold less prestigious occupations, and accumulate fewer financial assets than those who postpone marriage until adulthood (Teachman, Polonko, & Scanzoni, 1986; Teti & Lamb, 1989; Teti, Lamb, & Elster, 1987). Adolescent marriages are also associated with a higher rate of dissolution than marriages that occur in adulthood (Heaton, Albrecht, & Martin, 1985; Teachman et al.; Teti & Lamb; Teti et al.). For example, one study found marital dissolution to be twice as likely among young people who married before age 20 as it was among those who postponed marriage until their twenties (Teachman, 1983).

Substance use may be related to early marriage for at least two reasons. First, substance use is associated with some important features of personality that may foster early marriage. Impulsivity and sensation seeking are two highly correlated dimensions of personality that are strongly and consistently associated with substance use (Newcomb & Earleywine, 1996; Wills, Vaccaro, & McNamara, 1994). Characterized by a heightened reactivity to reinforcement, a strong reward focus, and a lack of prior consideration of the consequences of one's behavior (Patterson & Newman, 1993), impulsivity has been linked to alcohol use (Colder & Chassin, 1997), cigarette smoking (Mitchell, 1999), and marijuana and other illicit substance use (see Brady, Myrick, & McElroy, 1998 for a review of this literature). Sensation seeking has been defined as a need for varied and novel experiences, and the willingness to take risks to obtain such experiences (Zuckerman, 1979). Sensation seeking has been associated with alcohol, cigarette, and other drug use, both cross-sectionally (e.g., Nagoshi, Wilson, & Rodriguez, 1991; Zuckerman, Ball, & Black, 1990) and longitudinally (e.g., Newcomb & McGee, 1991). Others have found that sensation seeking accounts for the relationship between substance use and other risk behaviors (Parent & Newman, 1999), and it may account for the relationship between substance use and early marriage.

Alternatively, cognitive deficits that result from substance use could be responsible for the link between substance use and early marriage. For example, impaired judgment from the use of substances such as alcohol and marijuana may lead adolescents to engage in risky sexual behavior (Curtain, Patrick, Lang, Cacioppo, & Birbaumer, 2001; MacDonald, Zanna, & Fong, 1986). Unplanned pregnancies that arise from this risky behavior could then prompt early marriage. Similarly, substance use may impair educational performance and limit aspirations (Dozier & Barnes, 1997; Yamada, Kendix, & Yamada, 1996), prompting early marriage as a substitute for schooling or career development. …

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