Lacking substance

Kevin Lewis

May 30, 2019

Trends in binge drinking and alcohol abstention among adolescents in the US, 2002-2016
Trenette Clark Goings et al.
Drug and Alcohol Dependence, July 2019, Pages 115-123

Methods: Respondents between the ages of 12 and 17 years who participated in the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) between 2002 and 2016 were included in the sample of 258,309. Measures included binge drinking, alcohol abstention, and co-morbid factors (e.g., marijuana, other illicit drugs), and demographic factors.

Results: Logistic regression analyses were conducted to examine the significance of trend changes by sub-groups while controlling for co-morbid and demographic factors. Findings indicated that binge drinking decreased substantially among adolescents in the US over the last 15 years. This decrease was shown among all age, gender, and racial/ethnic groups. In 2002, Year 1 of the study, 26% of 17-year-olds reported past-month binge drinking; in 2016, past-month binge drinking dropped to 12%. Findings also indicated comparable increases in the proportion of youth reporting abstention from alcohol consumption across all subgroups. Black youth reported substantially lower levels of binge alcohol use and higher levels of abstention, although the gap between Black, Hispanic and White youth narrowed substantially between 2002 and 2016.

Legal Access to Alcohol and Academic Performance: Who is Affected?
Joung Yeob Ha & Austin Smith
Economics of Education Review, October 2019, Pages 19-22


Previous research finds that legal access to alcohol hinders the academic performance of college students. However, the existing studies differ materially in magnitudes, suggesting a reduction in subsequent grades of either 0.03 or 0.10 standard deviations. One plausible explanation is that the change in alcohol consumption that occurs upon attaining the minimum legal drinking age (MLDA) differs across student populations. We test this hypothesis by leveraging predictable variation in adherence to the MLDA across students within the same institution. We find that students with limited underage access to alcohol experience the largest declines in academics upon turning 21, while students with large social networks that likely enable underage consumption experience no effect.

Revisiting the Effects of Tobacco Retailer Compliance Inspections on Youth Tobacco Use
Bo Feng & Michael Pesko
American Journal of Health Economics, forthcoming


We evaluate the effect of the first six years of the Food and Drug Administration's compliance check program, which includes underage buyer “sting” inspections, on youth cigarette purchasing and tobacco use patterns. Abouk and Adams (2017) studied the first three years of the program using Monitoring the Future and found evidence that the program changed purchasing patterns and decreased cigarette use among underage 12th graders. We nearly triple the number of inspections we evaluate by studying the first six years of the program and find mostly null results. We also find null results when broadening the sample to include all underage youth and when using two additional data sources (National Youth Tobacco Survey and Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System). We speculate possible reasons for the program's ineffectiveness, including that underage decoys are prohibited from both lying about their age and using fake identification.

Predicting High-Risk Opioid Prescriptions Before they are Given
Justine Hastings, Mark Howison & Sarah Inman
NBER Working Paper, April 2019


Misuse of prescription opioids is a leading cause of premature death in the United States. We use new state government administrative data and machine learning methods to examine whether the risk of future opioid dependence, abuse, or poisoning can be predicted in advance of an initial opioid prescription. Our models accurately predict these outcomes and identify particular prior non-opioid prescriptions, medical history, incarceration, and demographics as strong predictors. Using our model estimates, we simulate a hypothetical policy which restricts new opioid prescriptions to only those with low predicted risk. The policy’s potential benefits likely outweigh costs across demographic subgroups, even for lenient definitions of “high risk.” Our findings suggest new avenues for prevention using state administrative data, which could aid providers in making better, data-informed decisions when weighing the medical benefits of opioid therapy against the risks.

Use of Alcohol and Cannabis Among Adults Driving Children in Washington State
Eduardo Romano et al.
Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, March 2019, Pages 196–200

Method: Data came from 2,056 drivers (1,238 male) who participated in the Washington State Roadside Survey between June 2014 and June 2015. Oral fluid, blood, and breath samples were used to measure cannabis and alcohol use. Self-reported data were used to assess risk perceptions. Descriptive tabulations, weighted prevalence estimates, and chi-square tests were conducted.

Results: Compared with other drivers, those who drove with a child were more likely to be driving during the daytime (46.6% vs. 36.3%, p = .03), less likely to be alcohol positive (0.2% vs. 4.5%, p < .0001), but as likely to be positive for Δ-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) (14.1% vs. 17.7%, p = .29). Drivers with a child were less likely to report moderate to severe marijuana problems (3.3%) than those without a child (8.4%) (p < .02). Most drivers reported that cannabis use was very likely to impair driving. Among those who did not perceive any risk, 40.6% of drivers with a child and 28.9% of drivers without a child tested positive for THC.

Risky Drinking Decisions: The Influence of Party Music and Alcohol Abuse in Young Adult Women
Anastasia Nikoulina et al.
Alcohol, forthcoming

Methods: To assess the impact of music listening on risky drinking decisions, the current study used visual alcohol cues paired with hypothetical risky drinking scenarios (e.g. “You do not have a safe ride home,” for alcohol). Young adult women with a history of alcohol abuse (N = 34), and casual-drinking control women (N = 29), made hypothetical decisions about whether or not to drink alcohol, or eat food (an appetitive control condition), in risky contexts while personal “party music” (music chosen by participants for “going out”) and “home music” (music chosen for “staying in”) played in the background. The main dependent measure – likelihood of drinking – was reported on a 4-point scale where 1 corresponded to “very unlikely,” and 4 to “very likely.”

Results: Listening to party music while making decisions increased the likelihood of making risky drinking decisions regardless of a history of alcohol abuse, while other personal music did not. Further, party music specifically increased the likelihood of risky drinking decisions relative to risky eating decisions. As expected, those with a history of alcohol abuse made more risky drinking decisions in general, regardless of the type of music heard.

Persisting on the past: Cross-sectional and prospective associations between sunk cost propensity and cannabis use
Michael Sofis et al.
Experimental and Clinical Psychopharmacology, forthcoming


Prevalence of cannabis use in the United States continues to rise, and 30% of cannabis users eventually meet criteria for Cannabis Use Disorder (CUD). One response to this problem is to develop decision-making constructs that indicate vulnerability to CUD that might not be gleaned from diagnostic criteria. Unfortunately, there is limited evidence that decision-making constructs consistently relate to cannabis use. Interestingly, those who exhibit the sunk cost bias, an overgeneralized tendency to persist based on past investment, and those who use cannabis, both tend to focus on the past and perseverate more than their counterparts. Despite this overlap, no studies have assessed whether the sunk cost bias is positively associated with cannabis use. In 2 experiments with undergraduates, relations between cannabis use and the propensity to engage in the sunk cost bias were examined using negative binomial models. Experiment 1 (n = 46) evaluated the association between sunk cost bias propensity (using hypothetical costs and rewards) and frequency of cannabis use over the past 30 days. Greater sunk cost propensity was associated with more frequent cannabis use after controlling for demographics and alcohol use. In Experiment 2 (n = 103), more frequent cannabis use during a 6-week follow-up period was predicted by greater sunk cost propensity at baseline (using a real cost and reward-based task), independently and after controlling for mental health symptoms, alcohol use, and demographics. These findings provide preliminary evidence that a propensity to exhibit the sunk cost bias may be an important feature associated with cannabis use.

The influence of misperceptions about social norms on substance use among school‐aged adolescents
Aliaksandr Amialchuk, Olugbenga Ajilore & Kevin Egan
Health Economics, June 2019, Pages 736-747


Individuals often have biased perceptions about their peers' behavior. We use an economic equilibrium analysis to study the role social norms play in substance use decisions. Using a nationally representative dataset, we estimate the effect of misperception about friends' alcohol, smoking, and marijuana use on consumption of these substances by youths in grades 7–12. Overestimation of friend's substance use significantly increases adolescent's own use approximately 1 year later, and the estimated effect is robust across specifications including individual‐level fixed effects regression. The effect size is bigger for boys than for girls. The estimates for those who initially underestimated the norm suggest the possibility of a rebound/boomerang effect.

It's all the rage! Exploring the nuances in the link between vaping and adolescent delinquency
Dylan Jackson et al.
Journal of Criminal Justice, forthcoming

Methods: We employ a sample of 8th and 10th grade youth from the 2017 cohort of the Monitoring the Future (MTF) study - a nationally representative, ongoing study of substance use and related risk factors.

Results: Findings suggest a link between vaping and delinquency that, under certain circumstances, surpasses the association between illicit substance use through traditional means and delinquency. Of all of the vaping and substance-using groups identified, results indicate that youth who ingest marijuana through a vape exhibit the highest risk of delinquent involvement and are at significantly greater risk of delinquent behavior than youth who vape non-illicit substances (e.g., flavor) and those who ingest illicit substances through traditional means.

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