Background: The present study examined the developmental antecedents of illicit drug use and abuse/dependence.
Methods: A 25-year prospective longitudinal study of the health, development, and adjustment of a birth cohort of 1265 New Zealand children. Measures included assessments of adolescent and young adult illicit drug use and abuse/dependence; cannabis use to age 25; measures of parental adjustment; measures of exposure to childhood sexual abuse, physical abuse, and interparental violence; novelty-seeking; childhood and early adolescent adjustment and substance use; and affiliation with substance-using peers.
Results: Illicit drug use and abuse/dependence from ages 16 to 25 were significantly associated (all p values<.05) with a range of parental adjustment measures; exposure to abuse in childhood; individual factors; and measures of childhood and early adolescent adjustment. Analyses using repeated measures logistic regression models suggested that parental illicit drug use, gender, novelty-seeking, and childhood conduct disorder predicted later illicit drug use and abuse/dependence. Further analyses revealed that these pathways to illicit drug use and abuse/dependence were mediated via cannabis use, affiliation with substance-using peers, and alcohol use during ages 16-25.
Conclusions: The current study suggested that the illicit drug use and abuse/dependence were associated with a range of early life circumstances and processes that put individuals at greater risk of illicit drug use and abuse/dependence. However, the use of cannabis in late adolescence and early adulthood emerged as the strongest risk factor for later involvement in other illicit drugs.