Funding: NIAAA R01AA026956
Project PI: Nina Mulia
Recent longitudinal studies suggest that well-established, adult predictors of health might actually be proxies for health-promoting and vulnerability factors present early in life. If true, this underscores the need to identify childhood experiences and conditions that have far-reaching effects on adult health and health behavior.
Extensive research has demonstrated the link between education and substance use problems, but to date has provided limited understanding of underlying causal mechanisms. Some epidemiologists speculate that the education-substance use association may be driven by unobserved, early life factors such as childhood cognitive skills. Directly relevant to this, growing evidence from neuroscience suggests that children’s cognitive, behavioral and socioemotional development may be profoundly impacted by early childhood adversity and “toxic stress” – with potentially significant consequences for a child’s school experiences, educational achievement and lifecourse health, including distal substance use outcomes.
Following on the implications of this research, the current study will examine longitudinal pathways from early childhood adversity to educational and substance use outcomes in young adulthood. Importantly, the project also aims to identify education resilience factors from early childhood through late adolescence that can mitigate or disrupt the effects of early childhood adversity on substance abuse.
Given existing educational inequalities, racial/ethnic differences in chronic stress and cumulative disadvantage, and disparities in adult substance use problems, the study will further investigate racial/ethnic differences in the consequences of early childhood adversity and in the protective effects of education resilience factors. This project will entail secondary analysis of data from two ongoing national longitudinal surveys, the Children of the U.S. National Longitudinal Survey of Youth and their mothers from the 1979 cohort of the U.S. National Longitudinal Survey of Youth. Together, they provide unusually rich, “child” data from birth through young adulthood, linked with historical and current maternal data, and including observational data on the home environment, and multiple perspectives on children’s schooling over time.
The study is guided by an integrative conceptual model informed by recent advances in child development, education (particularly early childhood education), and substance use epidemiology, and is conducted by a multidisciplinary team from the fields of public health, education, developmental psychology, sociology, and biostatistics.
The study applies innovative and state-of-the-art statistical techniques such as multi-group cross-lagged path/structural equation modeling for reciprocal effects, and propensity score methods to test causal moderation.
This research will shed new light on lifecourse mechanisms leading to the emergence of substance use disparities, and will identify malleable, education-related factors in different developmental periods that help to promote resilience and reduce the harmful effects of early adversity in diverse groups.