Age-related patterns of drug use initiation among polydrug using regular psychostimulant users

Drug Alcohol Rev. 2012 Sep;31(6):784-9. doi: 10.1111/j.1465-3362.2012.00436.x. Epub 2012 Mar 26.


Introduction and aims: To determine age-related patterns of drug use initiation, drug sequencing and treatment entry among regular psychostimulant users.

Design and methods: Cross-sectional study of 269 regular psychostimulant users, administered a structured interview examining onset of use for major licit and illicit drugs.

Results: The mean age at first intoxication was not associated with age or gender. In contrast, younger age was associated with earlier ages of onset for all of the illicit drug classes. Each additional year of age was associated with a 4 month increase in onset age for methamphetamine, and 3 months for heroin. By the age of 17, those born prior to 1961 had, on average, used only tobacco and alcohol, whereas those born between 1986 and 1990 had used nine different drug classes. The period between initial use and the transition to regular use, however, was stable. Age was also negatively correlated with both age at initial injection and regular injecting. Onset sequences, however, remained stable. Consistent with the age-related patterns of drug use, each additional year of age associated with a 0.47 year increase in the age at first treatment.

Discussion and conclusions: While the age at first intoxication appeared stable, the trajectory through illicit drug use was substantially truncated. The data indicate that, at least among those who progress to regular illicit drug use, younger users are likely to be exposed to far broader polydrug use in their teens than has previously been the case.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Age of Onset
  • Central Nervous System Stimulants* / administration & dosage
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Illicit Drugs*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Substance-Related Disorders / epidemiology*
  • Substance-Related Disorders / psychology
  • Young Adult


  • Central Nervous System Stimulants
  • Illicit Drugs