This study found differences in the number and characteristics of subtypes of alcohol users for White and AA adolescent girls, supporting the need for race-specific typologies of adolescent drinkers. A four-group typology was found for White girls, including abstainers, experimenters, moderate drinkers, and heavy drinkers. For AA girls, only three subtypes emerged: abstainers, experimenters, and problem drinkers. Differences among the subtypes on externalizing and internalizing behaviors were also found, with more problematic subtypes exhibiting higher rates of these problems in both racial groups.
The four subtypes of drinkers that emerged for White girls are consistent with results found in other studies of White samples of adolescents (Colder & Chassin, 1999
; Steinhausen & Metzke, 2003
; Windle, 1996
). Thus, our findings for White girls extend the validity of the previously defined four-group drinker typology to a nationally representative sample of girls. As hypothesized, this four-group typology did not generalize to AA girls in our sample. Very little previous research has examined race differences in typologies of adolescent alcohol users, and those studies that have done so have generated subtypes based on mixed racial groups and then examined differences in the racial makeup of each subtype (Orlando et al., 2005
; Schulenberg et al., 1996
; Stewart & Power, 2002
). These studies, although they included AA participants, generated essentially the same four-group typology as that found for the White girls in the current study. Thus, the current study is among the first (Flory et al., 2006
) to provide evidence that the number and structure of subtypes of alcohol users may be different for AA adolescents.
Consistent with known rates of alcohol use among AA and White adolescents (CDC, 2006
), a higher percentage of AA girls were abstainers than White girls. Moreover, for AA girls, more than 90% of the sample were either abstainers or experimenters, compared to 70% of the sample of White girls. White and AA experimenters were similar in terms of frequency and quantity of alcohol use, as well as rates of associated negative consequences. Race differences in typologies emerged most clearly for the subtypes of more problematic drinkers. For White girls, there were two such groups (moderate drinkers and heavy drinkers), distinguished both by frequency of use and rates of negative consequences and high-risk drinking behaviors. This finding supports previous studies that have differentiated among subtypes of problematic alcohol users in largely White samples (Chung & Martin, 2001
; Reboussin et al., 2006
). The emergence of only one problematic alcohol use group among AA girls suggests that AA problematic alcohol users may be a more homogenous group than White problem drinkers.
The AA problem drinkers in the current study can be described as falling somewhere in between the White moderate and heavy drinkers in terms of frequency and consequences of use. Specifically, the AA problem drinkers used alcohol about as frequently as the White heavy drinkers, and drank heavily and got drunk more often than the White moderate drinkers, but less often than the White heavy drinkers. Rates of consequences for the AA problem drinkers were similar overall to the White heavy drinkers. A fairly consistent finding in the literature is that despite having lower rates of substance use, AA adolescents tend to experience higher rates of negative consequences of use (Harrison, 1992
; Herd, 1995
). Interestingly, AA problem drinkers had lower rates of driving drunk and drinking while using drugs than both groups of White problematic drinkers, and higher rates of carrying a weapon while drinking than both groups of Whites. Other national studies have found higher rates of carrying a weapon among AA adolescent girls compared to White girls (CDC, 2006
For White girls, the moderate and heavy drinking subtypes were characterized by higher rates of co-occurring internalizing and externalizing problems compared to abstainers and experimenters. These findings are consistent with past research that suggests that abstainers and experimenters represent more normative types of adolescent alcohol users (Colder & Chassin, 1999
; Steinhausen & Metzke, 2003
; Windle, 1996
), and are not necessarily associated with psychological and behavioral problems. It has even been suggested that some experimentation with substances in adolescence is a normal part of adolescent exploration and identity development, and is associated with more positive adjustment than complete abstention (Shedler & Block, 1990
; Siebenbruner, Englund, Egeland, & Hudson, 2006
). Consistent with past literature, White moderate and heavy drinkers differed on externalizing problems, with heavy drinkers having higher rates of delinquency and academic misbehavior (Siebenbruner et al., 2006
; Steinhausen & Metzke, 2003
; Windle, 1996
). Interestingly, White moderate and heavy drinkers did not differ on depressive symptoms. Overall, for White girls, both internalizing and externalizing symptoms distinguished between “normative” drinkers (abstainers and experimenters) and “problematic” drinkers (moderate and heavy drinkers), but only externalizing symptoms further distinguished between types of problematic drinkers. This suggests that among White girls, more internalizing symptoms may be a marker for crossing over from experimental alcohol use into moderate use, and more externalizing problems may be a marker for crossing over into the heaviest and most problematic subtype. This interpretation is consistent with the idea of two types of problematic drinkers, an internalizing type and an externalizing type, and further suggests that the internalizing type may be characterized by slightly less problematic drinking behaviors than the externalizing type (Steinhausen & Metzke, 2003
). Future research using longitudinal data is needed to clarify this finding.
Among AA girls, delinquency distinguished between all three subtypes, with problem drinkers having the highest rates, followed by experimenters, and then abstainers. Internalizing symptoms and academic misbehavior only distinguished the problem drinkers from the abstainers, and not from the experimenters. Thus, externalizing problems may be a marker for more severe problems with alcohol use in both racial groups. For White girls, this relationship was found for both delinquency and academic misbehavior, however for AA girls, only delinquency distinguished the most problematic drinkers. This is consistent with past research that found that school-related externalizing problems may impact substance use more for White youth than for AA youth (Wells et al., 1992
Taken together, the results of this study suggest that for both White and AA adolescent girls, the most problematic alcohol users are distinguished largely by the presence of co-occurring externalizing problems, particularly delinquency. It should be noted that rates of depressive symptoms were low in general for the study sample. In both racial groups, the average symptom score for all subtypes of alcohol users fell well below the clinical cutoff for depression, however the more problematic subtypes did have a higher percentage of girls with depression scores above the clinical cutoff in both racial groups. Additionally, it is important to note that several of the items on the delinquency scale involved substance use, such as selling drugs, fighting while using drugs, and carrying a weapon while using drugs. This overlap in constructs may have contributed to the strong association between delinquency and problematic alcohol use, however these items were retained in the delinquency scale in order to be consistent with past research using this measure.
The results of this study must be considered in light of several limitations. First, the data are cross-sectional, so it is unknown whether the latent classes represent actual distinct subtypes of adolescent alcohol users, or adolescents in different stages of use. Additionally, because of the cross-sectional nature of the data, we could not determine the temporal order of alcohol use and internalizing and externalizing problems. Finally, due to small numbers of respondents in racial groups other than White and AA, we were not able to determine whether race-specific alcohol use typologies would emerge for other racial groups.
Our results reinforce the need for further within-race investigations of the nature and correlates of alcohol use among adolescent girls. The limited research that has been done in this area has found some evidence for race differences in risk and protective factors when comparing adolescent alcohol users to abstainers (Wallace & Muroff, 2002
). Given the race differences found in the current study in alcohol use typologies, a reasonable next step is to attempt to clarify the antecedents leading to specific subtypes of alcohol users within racial groups. For example, what risk factors differentiate experimenters from problematic users, and do these risk factors differ for White and AA adolescents? Longitudinal studies are also needed to determine whether the race-specific typologies found in the current study are stable over time, as well as their association with various outcomes in young adulthood and beyond. We expect to examine some of these research questions in future studies using the two follow-up waves of the Add Health data. Research of this nature will increase our limited understanding of race differences in alcohol use and co-occurring problems, and inform the development of targeted alcohol prevention programs.