Is socioeconomic status in early life associated with drug use? A systematic review of the evidence

Drug Alcohol Rev. 2009 Mar;28(2):142-53. doi: 10.1111/j.1465-3362.2008.00042.x.


Aim: To conduct a systematic review of longitudinal studies that examined the association between childhood socioeconomic status (SES) and illegal drug use in later life.

Design and methods: Systematic search with an agreed list of search items was used to identify all longitudinal population-based studies that examined the association between childhood SES and later drug use. These included MEDLINE (1966-2005), EMBASE (1990-2005), CINAHL (1982-2005) and PsychInfo (1806-2005), and specialist databases of the Lindesmith Library, Drugscope and Addiction Abstracts. Foreign-language papers were included. Abstracts were screened independently by two reviewers. If there was disagreement to accept or reject the abstract, then a third reviewer acted as arbiter. Data were extracted by one of the authors.

Results: Eleven relevant papers were identified (two birth cohorts and nine papers on school-aged cohorts). There was consistent evidence to support an association between lower childhood SES and later drug use, primarily cannabis use. However, few studies examined cannabis dependence, and studies of more problematic forms of drug use gave contradictory results.

Discussion and conclusions: We found consistent, though weak, evidence to support the assumption that childhood disadvantage is associated with later cannabis use. Further research is needed to clarify this issue and to inform future policies and public health messages.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Child
  • Drug Users / psychology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Social Class*
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • Substance-Related Disorders / psychology*