Emotional distress, drinking, and academic achievement across the adolescent life course

Timothy J. Owens, Nathan D. Shippee, Devon J. Hensel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Scopus citations


Our study of the adolescent life course proposes that substantial maturation occurs within three intertwined arenas of development: the social, the psychological, and the normative attainment. Further, each arena may be linked, respectively, to three youth problem dimensions: drinking, depressive affect, and academic achievement. We use latent growth curves and the Youth Development Study (effective N = 856) to track a panel of teens from their freshman to senior year in high school. There are 54.4% girls and 45.6% boys, and 75.7% non-Hispanic whites and 24.3% other races/ethnicities. Two research goals are addressed: (1) estimate each dimension's unique developmental trajectory across high school, and (2) model the dimensions together in order to assess their reciprocal influences. While mean levels in all three dimensions increased over time, distinct developmental patterns were observed, especially in drinking and depression. For example, more drinking occasions-a social activity for most teens-may help assuage some teens' emotional distress, especially girls'. These patterns suggest a synergistic relationship between the social and psychological arenas of development. Contrary to expectation, higher freshman depressive affect was associated with a significantly sharper increase in GPA over time for girls.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1242-1256
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Youth and Adolescence
Issue number10
StatePublished - Nov 2008

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Acknowledgements The authors thank the principal investigator of the Youth Development Study, Jeylan T. Mortimer, for use of the data. The Youth Development Study was supported by Grant Number R01HD044138 from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development or the National Institutes of Health. The Youth Development Study was previously supported by the National Institute of Mental Health. We are also grateful to Kenneth F. Ferraro, Jeylan T. Mortimer, Sarah A. Mustillo, and Angie Andriot for critical readings of earlier drafts.


  • Academic achievement
  • Adolescent drinking
  • Emotional distress


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