Relational Peer Victimization Interacts With Depression Severity to Predict the Timing of Alcohol Use Initiation in Adolescent Girls

Jacqueline Woerner, Feifei Ye, Alison E. Hipwell, Tammy Chung, Carolyn E. Sartor

Publication Date: 11/19/2019

Background: Peer victimization is consistently linked to adolescents’ alcohol use. However, the relative influence of relational and physical peer victimization on alcohol use, and timing of drinking initiation, is not well understood. In this study, we evaluate the impact of both relational and physical peer victimization on adolescent girls’ alcohol use initiation, and the extent to which depression severity moderates these associations. Methods: Participants were 2,125 girls in the Pittsburgh Girls Study, a longitudinal community-based study. Participants reported experiences of relational and physical peer victimization, depression severity, and alcohol use each year from ages 10 to 17. Cox proportional hazards (PH) regression analyses predicting the timing of first drink were conducted in 2 stages, testing for main effects of peer victimization in Model 1 and moderation by depression severity in Model 2. Results: Analyses were split at age 14 to adjust for PH violations. Model 1 results supported a main effect for relational (Hazards ratio [HR] = 1.83, CI: 1.46 to 2.28 ≤ age 13; HR = 1.23, CI: 1.05 to 1.45 ≥ age 14) but not physical victimization on timing of alcohol use onset (HR = 1.10, CI: 0.88 to 1.39). Model 2 results show that depression severity moderates the association between relational victimization and alcohol use initiation: the association between relational victimization and early alcohol use onset was stronger for lower depression severity (−1 SD HR = 2.38, CI: 1.68 to 3.39 ≤ age 13; −1 SD HR = 1.48, CI: 1.10 to 1.52 ≥ age 14). Conclusions: Results demonstrate that relational (and not physical) victimization predicts earlier drinking among adolescent girls. Relational peer victimization conferred greater risk for alcohol use initiation when depression severity was lower, whereas girls with high depression severity engaged in early alcohol use regardless of peer victimization. Results suggest that interventions focused on relational peer victimization may have spillover effects for delaying girls’ alcohol use initiation, particularly in early adolescence, when this association is most robust…