Temperament pathways to childhood disruptive behavior and adolescent substance abuse: Testing a cascade model

Michelle M. Martel, Laura Pierce, Joel T. Nigg, Jennifer M. Jester, Kenneth Adams, Leon I. Puttler, Anne Buu, Hiram Fitzgerald, Robert A. Zucker

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

66 Scopus citations


Temperament traits may increase risk for developmental psychopathology like Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and disruptive behaviors during childhood, as well as predisposing to substance abuse during adolescence. In the current study, a cascade model of trait pathways to adolescent substance abuse was examined. Component hypotheses were that (a) maladaptive traits would increase risk for inattention/hyperactivity, (b) inattention/hyperactivity would increase risk for disruptive behaviors, and (c) disruptive behaviors would lead to adolescent substance abuse. Participants were 674 children (486 boys) from 321 families in an ongoing, longitudinal high risk study that began when children were 3 years old. Temperament traits assessed were reactive control, resiliency, and negative emotionality, using examiner ratings on the California Q-Sort. Parent, teacher, and self ratings of inattention/hyperactivity, disruptive behaviors, and substance abuse were also obtained. Low levels of childhood reactive control, but not resiliency or negative emotionality, were associated with adolescent substance abuse, mediated by disruptive behaviors. Using a cascade model, family risk for substance abuse was partially mediated by reactive control, inattention/hyperactivity, and disruptive behavior. Some, but not all, temperament traits in childhood were related to adolescent substance abuse; these effects were mediated via inattentive/hyperactive and disruptive behaviors.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)363-373
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Abnormal Child Psychology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Apr 2009

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by NIAAA grant R01-AA12217 to Robert Zucker and Joel Nigg, NIAAA grant R37-AA07065 to Robert Zucker and Hiram Fitzgerald, and NIMH grant R01-MH59105 to Joel Nigg. Martel was supported by 1 F31 MH075533-01A2. The authors thank the participants and Susan Refior, the long term MLS Field Director, whose steadfast commitment and support have made this study possible.


  • Disruptive behavior
  • Reactive control
  • Substance abuse
  • Temperament

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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