Parietal P3 and midfrontal theta prospectively predict the development of adolescent alcohol use

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Background Subclinical adolescent alcohol use is highly prevalent and may have deleterious effects on important psychosocial and brain outcomes. Prior research has focused on identifying endophenotypes of pathological drinking, and the predictors of normative drinking remain understudied. This study investigated the incremental predictive value of two potential psychophysiological endophenotypes, P3 amplitude (an index of decision making) and midfrontal theta power (a correlate of attentional control), for prospectively predicting the expression and initiation of alcohol use emerging in adolescence. Methods A large (N = 594) epidemiological sample was prospectively assessed at ages 11/14/17. Alcohol/substance use was assessed at all ages via a computerized self-report inventory. EEG was recorded at age-14 during a visual oddball task to elicit P3 and theta. Results Reduced target-related P3 and theta at age-14 prospectively predicted drinking at age-17 independent of one another. Among alcohol-naive individuals at age-14, attenuated P3 and theta increased the odds of new-onset alcohol behaviors 3 years later. Importantly, the endophenotypes provided significant incremental predictive power of future non-clinical alcohol use beyond relevant risk factors (prior alcohol use; tobacco/illicit drug initiation; parental alcohol use disorder). Conclusions The current report is the first of our knowledge to demonstrate that deviations in parietal P3 and midfrontal theta prospectively predict the emergence of normative/non-pathological drinking. P3 and theta provide modest yet significant explanatory variance beyond prominent self-report and familial risk measures. Findings offer strong evidence supporting the predictive utility of P3 and theta as candidate endophenotypes for adolescent drinking.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)416-425
Number of pages10
JournalPsychological medicine
Issue number3
StatePublished - Nov 18 2019

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2019.


  • Adolescent alcohol use
  • P3
  • endophenotype
  • longitudinal design
  • theta


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