Subpopulations of older foster youths with differential risk of diagnosis for alcohol abuse or dependence

UMMS Affiliation

Department of Medicine, Division of Preventive and Behavioral Medicine

Publication Date


Document Type



Adolescent; Age Factors; Alcoholism; Child; Child Welfare; Cohort Studies; Female; Foster Home Care; Humans; Longitudinal Studies; Male; Regression Analysis; Risk Factors; Socioeconomic Factors


Behavioral Disciplines and Activities | Behavior and Behavior Mechanisms | Community Health and Preventive Medicine | Preventive Medicine


OBJECTIVE: Distinctive combinations of factors are likely to be associated with serious alcohol problems among adolescents about to emancipate from the foster care system and face the difficult transition to independent adulthood. This study identifies particular subpopulations of older foster youths that differ markedly in the probability of a lifetime diagnosis for alcohol abuse or dependence.

METHOD: Classification and regression tree (CART) analysis was applied to a large, representative sample (N = 732) of individuals, 17 years of age or older, placed in the child welfare system for more than 1 year. CART evaluated two exploratory sets of variables for optimal splits into groups distinguished from each other on the criterion of lifetime alcohol-use disorder diagnosis.

RESULTS: Each classification tree yielded four terminal groups with different rates of lifetime alcohol-use disorder diagnosis. Notable groups in the first tree included one characterized by high levels of both delinquency and violence exposure (53% diagnosed) and another that featured lower delinquency but an independent-living placement (21% diagnosed). Notable groups in the second tree included African American adolescents (only 8% diagnosed), White adolescents not close to caregivers (40% diagnosed), and White adolescents closer to caregivers but with a history of psychological abuse (36% diagnosed).

CONCLUSIONS: Analyses incorporating variables that could be comorbid with or symptomatic of alcohol problems, such as delinquency, yielded classifications potentially useful for assessment and service planning. Analyses without such variables identified other factors, such as quality of caregiving relationships and maltreatment, associated with serious alcohol problems, suggesting opportunities for prevention or intervention.


J Stud Alcohol Drugs. 2010 Nov;71(6):819-30. Link to article on publisher's website

Journal/Book/Conference Title

Journal of studies on alcohol and drugs

Related Resources

Link to Article in PubMed

PubMed ID