Development and Psychopathology

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Substance use changes and social role transitions: Proximal developmental effects on ongoing trajectories from late adolescence through early adulthood

Jeremy Staffa1 c1, John E. Schulenberga2, Julie Maslowskya2, Jerald G. Bachmana2, Patrick M. O'Malleya2, Jennifer L. Maggsa1 and Lloyd D. Johnstona2

a1 Pennsylvania State University

a2 University of Michigan


Substance use changes rapidly during late adolescence and early adulthood. This time in the life course is also dense with social role changes, as role changes provide dynamic context for individual developmental change. Using nationally representative, multiwave longitudinal data from age 18 to 28, we examine proximal links between changes in social roles and changes in substance use during the transition to adulthood. We find that changes in family roles, such as marriage, divorce, and parenthood, have clear and consistent associations with changes in substance use. With some notable exceptions, changes in school and work roles have weaker effects on changes in substance use compared to family roles. Changes in socializing (i.e., nights out for fun and recreation) and in religiosity were found to mediate the relationship of social role transitions to substance use. Two time-invariant covariates, socioeconomic background and heavy adolescent substance use, predicted social role status, but did not moderate associations, as within-person links between social roles and substance use were largely equivalent across groups. This paper adds to the cascading effects literature by considering how, within individuals, more proximal variations in school, work, and family roles relate to variations in substance use, and which roles appear to be most influential in precipitating changes in substance use during the transition to adulthood.


c1 Address correspondence and reprint requests to: Jeremy Staff, Department of Sociology, Pennsylvania State University, 211 Oswald Tower, University Park, PA 16802-6207; E-mail:


The first author gratefully acknowledges the support from a Mentored Research Scientist Development Award in Population Research from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (K01 HD054467). This paper uses data from the Monitoring the Future study, which is supported by a grant from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (R01 DA01411); the second and other authors gratefully acknowledge the support from this grant. The findings and conclusions in this report are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the sponsors.