Alcohol, tobacco, and other drug use among adolescents: examining sensation seeking, sport, and psychosocial mediators



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The leading cause of death for 15-20 year olds in the United States is unintentional injury. For this population, these injuries are often caused by motor vehicle accidents, alcohol and/or drug use, or a combination thereof. Sensation seeking is an internal drive to seek exciting and novel experiences. Congruous with normative developmental processes, adolescents are more likely to have a higher psycho-physiological drive towards sensation seeking than are younger children or adults. High sensation seeking is one of the risk factors for alcohol, tobacco, and other drug (ATOD) use. Other risk factors include: lack of adult-supervised time, high negative affect, and favorable attitudes and subjective norms regarding ATOD use. Sport participation addresses many of these risk factors. Sport and extracurricular activity participation have been examined in relation to ATOD use. However, the relationship between sport and ATOD use remains somewhat equivocal. This study aimed to determine the direction of the relationship between sport participation and ATOD use, and to elucidate putative, psychosocial mediators and moderators. Students in health classes (n=239, average age 16.06)) from three high schools in one suburban, Central Texas school district were given an anonymous survey regarding ATOD use, extracurricular activities, affect, attitudes, sensation seeking, social support, and subjective norms. Regression, ANOVA, and path analysis were the statistical methods employed. Consistent with previous research, favorable attitudes and subjective norms towards ATODs had a strong, positive effect on ATOD use. Sport participation was examined as moderator in the relationship between sensation seeking and ATOD use. An interaction between sport and ATOD use with sensation seeking was supported by the data. However, mean sensation seeking on the Arnett Sensation Seeking Scale was low for this sample, compared with that of other adolescent samples. Mean ATOD use was lower for sport participants compared with all other students, but not compared with extracurricular activity participants.