Age-varying associations between substance use behaviors and depressive symptoms during adolescence and young adulthood

Megan S. Schuler, Sara Vasilenko, Stephanie T. Lanza

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

27 Scopus citations


Background: Substance use and depression often co-occur, complicating treatment of both substance use and depression. Despite research documenting age-related trends in both substance use and depression, little research has examined how the associations between substance use behaviors and depression changes across the lifespan. Methods: This study examines how the associations between substance use behaviors (daily smoking, regular heavy episodic drinking (HED), and marijuana use) and depressive symptoms vary from adolescence into young adulthood (ages 12-31), and how these associations differ by gender. Using data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health (Add Health), we implemented time-varying effect models (TVEM), an analytic approach that estimates how the associations between predictors (e.g., substance use measures) and an outcome (e.g., depressive symptoms) vary across age. Results: Marijuana use and daily smoking were significantly associated with depressive symptoms at most ages from 12 to 31. Regular HED was significantly associated with depressive symptoms during adolescence only. In bivariate analyses, the association with depressive symptoms for each substance use behavior was significantly stronger for females at certain ages; when adjusting for concurrent substance use in a multivariate analysis, no gender differences were observed. Conclusions: While the associations between depressive symptoms and both marijuana and daily smoking were relatively stable across ages 12-31, regular HED was only significantly associated with depressive symptoms during adolescence. Understanding age and gender trends in these associations can help tailor prevention efforts and joint treatment methods in order to maximize public health benefit.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)75-82
Number of pages8
JournalDrug and Alcohol Dependence
StatePublished - Jan 1 2015
Externally publishedYes



  • Adolescence
  • Age-varying effects
  • Comorbidity
  • Depression
  • Substance use
  • Young adulthood

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Toxicology
  • Pharmacology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Pharmacology (medical)

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