The Developmental Antecedents of Illicit Drug Use: Evidence From a 25-year Longitudinal Study

Drug Alcohol Depend. 2008 Jul 1;96(1-2):165-77. doi: 10.1016/j.drugalcdep.2008.03.003. Epub 2008 Apr 21.


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.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Child
  • Child Abuse / psychology
  • Child Abuse / statistics & numerical data
  • Cohort Studies
  • Conduct Disorder / epidemiology
  • Conduct Disorder / psychology
  • Humans
  • Illicit Drugs / adverse effects*
  • Life Change Events
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Models, Statistical
  • New Zealand / epidemiology
  • Parents / psychology
  • Peer Group
  • Prospective Studies
  • Psychology, Adolescent / statistics & numerical data
  • Psychology, Child
  • Regression Analysis
  • Risk Factors
  • Social Adjustment*
  • Substance-Related Disorders / diagnosis*
  • Substance-Related Disorders / epidemiology
  • Substance-Related Disorders / psychology


  • Illicit Drugs