Early-onset drug use and risk for drug dependence problems

Addict Behav. 2009 Mar;34(3):319-22. doi: 10.1016/j.addbeh.2008.10.021. Epub 2008 Nov 1.


There is substantial evidence that alcohol, tobacco, and cannabis dependence problems surface more quickly when use of these drugs starts before adulthood, but the evidence based on other internationally regulated drugs (e.g., cocaine) is meager. With focus on an interval of up to 24 months following first drug use, we examine drug-specific and age-specific variation in profiles of early-emerging clinical features associated with drug dependence. Based upon the United States National Surveys on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) conducted in 2000-2002, the risk of experiencing drug dependence problems was robustly greater for adolescent recent-onset users of cocaine, psychostimulant drugs other than cocaine, analgesics, anxiolytic medicines, inhalants drugs, and cannabis, as compared to adult recent-onset users (odds ratio=1.5-4.3, p<0.05). This was not the case for the NSDUH hallucinogens group (e.g., LSD). The adolescent onset associated excess risk was not constant across all clinical features. Our evidence suggests promoting earlier detection and interventions, as well as greater parent and peer awareness of drug dependence clinical features that may develop early among young people who have just started using drugs.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Age Factors
  • Female
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Risk Factors
  • Substance-Related Disorders / epidemiology*
  • Young Adult