Substance use among runaway and homeless youth in three national samples

Am J Public Health. 1997 Feb;87(2):229-35. doi: 10.2105/ajph.87.2.229.


Objectives: Standardized estimates of the prevalence of substance use by runaway and homeless youth between the ages of 12 and 21 in various settings were compared with each other and with estimates for youth in the general population.

Methods: Four surveys were used: (1) a nationally representative survey of runaway and homeless youth residing in federally and non-federally funded shelters; (2) a multicity survey of street youth; (3) a nationally representative household survey of youth with and without recent runaway and homeless experiences; and (4) a nationally representative household survey of youth whose previous runaway/homeless status was unknown.

Results: For almost every substance, substance use prevalence was highest among street youth. Shelter youth and household youth with recent runaway/homeless experiences reported similar rates. In the household surveys, substance use rates were lowest and were generally comparable.

Conclusions: Many homeless and runaway youth use tobacco, alcohol, and other drugs at rates substantially higher than nonrunaway and nonhomeless youth, indicating a need for comprehensive and intensive substance abuse prevention and treatment services for these youth.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adolescent Behavior
  • Adult
  • Alcoholism / epidemiology*
  • Child
  • Data Collection
  • Female
  • Homeless Youth / statistics & numerical data*
  • Housing
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Prevalence
  • Substance-Related Disorders / epidemiology*
  • United States / epidemiology