The current analysis uses data from the Monitoring the Future (MTF) data set. MTF collects data yearly from a nationally representative sample of adolescents via in-school surveys. Anxiety items were first added to MTF survey forms in 2017 making this the first consideration into anxiety correlates using this dataset. Anxiety items include “I often feel anxious” and “I feel anxious in social settings”. These items were designed to capture aspects related generalized anxiety and social anxiety, respectively. Cross-sectional data from the 2017 and 2018 years were used in correlation analysis to examine the associations between anxiety and a range of variables related to health and social functioning. These include substance use (alcohol use, binge drinking, marijuana use, and illicit substance use), externalizing behavior (interpersonal aggression, theft and property damage), depression, self-esteem, social functioning (loneliness, boredom, time with friends), health behaviors, and academic performance. The first analysis controlled for demographics including SES, race, gender, and age. Follow up analyses compared significant correlations across demographic groups.
The results of the analyses largely replicate findings from previous studies. Adolescents reporting agreement with the general and social anxiety items were 26% and 21%, respectively. Additionally, levels of anxiety during adolescence were positively associated with levels of alcohol and illicit substance use, depression, boredom, and loneliness. Negative relationships were observed between anxiety and externalizing behaviors and self-esteem. Differences between demographic groups were observed. Most notably, the strength of the association between anxiety and drug and alcohol use varied by substance and differed across demographic groups.
Results indicate that subclinical levels of anxiety are prevalent in U.S. adolescents and confirm previously identified anxiety associations with adverse social, behavioral, and health related outcomes. Implications for intervention and future analyses using longitudinal MTF data are discussed.