Parental Supervisory Knowledge and Neighborhood Disadvantage as Moderators of the Link from Childhood Externalizing Problems to Substance Use Initiation

Date of Award


Degree Name

M.A. in Clinical Psychology


Department of Psychology


Advisor: Jackson Goodnight


Many studies emphasize that the earlier substances are initiated, the more persistent and problematic substance use will be in the future. Externalizing behaviors, or, problematic behaviors that manifest as outward defiance, impulsivity, disruptiveness, aggression, and antisocial acts on a child's external environment (Achenbach & Edelbrock, 1981), add increased vulnerability to early substance initiation; on average, children exhibiting externalizing behaviors initiate substances two years earlier than their same-aged peers. Although past research considered the relations between parental knowledge of the child's behavior and neighborhood disadvantage (Lahey et al., 2008), little research has investigated how these variables impact the relationship between externalizing behavior and early substance initiation for alcohol and tobacco. Using multilevel modeling, this study analyzed data from the Children of the National Longitudinal Survey of Youths (CNLSY) study to provide a clearer understanding of (1) the relationship between externalizing behaviors and early substance initiation and (2) the moderating effects of parental knowledge and neighborhood disadvantage on this relationship. Models employed between-family and within-family analyses to compare variables at the population level and between biological siblings. Results showed that the relationship between heightened externalizing behaviors and early alcohol use initiation was stronger at low levels of neighborhood disadvantage. Furthermore, this two-way interaction was strengthened at low levels of parental knowledge. This effect differed by gender and became insignificant when comparing biological siblings, suggesting that (1) boys and girls exhibiting externalizing behaviors are differentially susceptible to early alcohol initiation and (2) adolescents with externalizing problems who were exposed to low disadvantage neighborhoods and experienced low parental knowledge were no more likely to start drinking at an earlier age compared to their siblings. Externalizing behaviors were found to only predict cigarette initiation. Relevance to current research regarding early substance initiation for children with behavioral problems and limitations are discussed.


Psychology, Clinical Psychology, Developmental Psychology, Parental knowledge, neighborhood disadvantage, externalizing behaviors, substance use, adolescence

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Copyright © 2020, author