Substance use, aggression linked in new study focused on Latino youth

(Medical Xpress)—Are high school age students who show aggression toward their peers more likely to consume alcohol, tobacco and marijuana? A new study of Latino adolescents in Kansas City, Mo., confirms this idea. But the linkage to substance use is strongest with a particular type of aggression that researchers dub "proactive."

"The type of aggression is based on the motivation behind the behavior," said Paula Fite, assistant professor in psychology and applied behavioral science at the University of Kansas. "Why are you aggressive? Proactive aggression boils down to an attitude where, 'You have something that I want—and I'm going to get it.'"

In the study, Fite and her colleagues found a consistent link between proactive, or goal-oriented, aggression and substance use among 152 predominantly Hispanic . The findings are set to appear in the forthcoming issue of the peer-reviewed Journal of Child and Adolescent Substance Abuse.

For , the tie between proactive aggression and use of alcohol, tobacco and marijuana was independent from other known , such as a prevalence of violence in students' neighborhoods. The investigation builds on earlier work looking at youth of various ethnic backgrounds.

"Proactive aggression is a robust risk factor for substance use, initiation of use in particular, among youth," Fite said. "Now that we've found proactive aggression to be a risk factor for substance use in Latino youth—and we previously found this link in Caucasian and African-—we can say without a doubt this is the behavior that we should be targeting for the prevention of substance use."

The KU researcher said that proactive aggression fits a developmental model of risk where one puts youth at risk for engaging in a range of harmful personal conduct.

"You have a characteristic where an individual isn't focusing on any ," said Fite. "All they see is that they have a desired goal they want to obtain—and they're going to do whatever it takes to get that. They might think, 'I want to be the popular kid, so I'm going to make a fool of you.' It's an underlying personality type and the way they've learned to navigate the world."

Fite and her co-investigators at KU found that proactive aggression is associated with the development of "antisocial and delinquent" behavior, such as use of substances, which can start early in childhood and worsen through teen years and adulthood.

"With regard to substance use it's, 'This feels good. I want to have a good time. So, I'm going to do it,'" Fite said. "They're not thinking, 'I could get arrested. What if my parents find out? I wont be able to get up for school in time.'"

Fite said she hoped the research could inform policymakers, educators, psychologists and social workers alike.

"If you look at the cost of child-onset substance use, one individual is costing society approximately $1 million over the course of their lifetime," she said. "We know that we need to act early and provide programming, funding and appropriate laws in order to effectively intervene. For schools, knowing whom to look out for, knowing the rates of substance use and contributing factors would be useful. For clinicians, you need to treat not just the substance use but the factors that contributed to the substance use."

Fite said that proactively aggressive teens should stand out to teachers and counselors as being particularly at-risk for substance use.

"There is something unique about kids who are willing to engage in proactively aggressive behavior," she said. "They're not doing this to protect themselves or because they feel threatened. They're doing it because they want to get something out of this, because they've learned that it will help them get what they want in life."

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Recommended for you

Toddlers copy their peers to fit in, but apes don't

14 hours ago

From the playground to the board room, people often follow, or conform, to the behavior of those around them as a way of fitting in. New research shows that this behavioral conformity appears early in human ...

Sadness lasts longer than other emotions

15 hours ago

Why is it that you can feel sad up to 240 times longer than you do feeling ashamed, surprised, irritated or even bored? It's because sadness often goes hand in hand with events of greater impact such as death ...

Can parents make their kids smarter?

15 hours ago

Reading bedtime stories, engaging in conversation and eating nightly dinners together are all positive ways in which parents interact with their children, but according to new research, none of these actions ...

User comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

DonGateley
2.3 / 5 (3) May 14, 2013
What is the relevance of it being focused on Mexicans? Why?

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.