Research has suggested that depressive symptoms are linked to the initiation of drug taking in adolescents. A recent study by researchers at the University of Southern California examined negative urgency—or acting rashly during periods of extreme negative emotion—as the mechanism linking depressive symptoms and substance abuse initiation.
Ninth-graders in two Los Angeles public high schools completed confidential surveys assessing negative urgency, depression levels, use of a variety of drugs, and other emotional health behaviors. Students’ depressive symptom levels were found to be associated with lifetime use of cigarettes and other forms of tobacco, marijuana, alcohol, inhalants, and prescription painkillers, and negative urgency was linked to the adolescents’ depression levels and age of first use and lifetime use of alcohol. These findings suggest that emotional vulnerability increases the likelihood of trying a variety of drugs in early adolescence. Interventions that target emotional coping mechanisms and the reduction of negative urgency may be useful in preventing early drug use, warranting further study.