Untangling co-morbidity: substance use and mental health in young Australians

This project investigated the co-morbidity of depression, anxiety and substance use in young Australians. The program of research utilised large epidemiological datasets and prevention trial data to map the developmental sequence of anxiety and mood disorders and alcohol use in the Australian population.

Two studies examined data collected as part of the 2007 Australian National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing. Study one investigated the impact of early onset anxiety disorders on age of first use of alcohol, while study two investigated the impact of early onset mood disorders on first use of alcohol. These studies are the first epidemiological investigations to model the impact of early onset anxiety and mood disorders on age of first alcohol use in a general population sample. Early onset anxiety and mood disorders were found to act as unique risk factors for first alcohol use, particularly after the age of 14 years. Significant interactions with developmental timing highlight the need to take into account age when examining the origins of the comorbidity between alcohol use and mood disorders. Different patterns were also observed in relation to individual anxiety and mood disorders.

Study three examined the developmental trajectories of emotional symptoms in a sample of adolescents followed from 13 to 16 years old. Latent class growth analysis uncovered four different trajectories of emotional symptoms. Adolescents whose emotional symptoms remained relatively high-stable across the study period were found to be using alcohol at higher rates at age 16 years, compared to their peers. This is the first time this has been examined in an Australian longitudinal sample.

Study four modelled the concurrent development of emotional symptoms and alcohol use in a cohort of 1,517 early adolescents over two years. Parallel latent growth modelling investigated whether growth in emotional symptoms was related to growth in alcohol use, and vice versa. Higher initial symptom levels predicted increasing alcohol use frequency. There was no relationship between growth in symptoms, or growth in alcohol use in a large sample of early adolescents from the general population.

Project Status
Completed Projects
image - Lousie Birrell Compressed
Research Assistant & PhD Candidate
Ph +612 9385 0333
Funding Body
APA and Rotary Health
image - Lousie Birrell Compressed
Research Assistant & PhD Candidate
Ph +612 9385 0333
image - N. Newton Photo 2015
Director of Prevention Research
Ph +61 2 9385 0159
image - Tim Slade 2018 Lower Res
Director of Epidemiology Research
Ph +61 2 9385 0267

Our Research Streams