Substance Abuse Generally Starts Around age 14

Alcohol and drug addiction behavior usually begins in adolescence suggesting early education is best

(RxWiki News) Most people who develop drug and alcohol problems began experimenting when they were 14 or 15 years old. However, just because someone experiments at a young age does not mean they will develop lifelong habits of abuse.

A study took over 10,000 kids from the ages of 13-18 and asked them questions about their relationship with drugs and alcohol.

Researchers realized that in order to affect the outcome of further alcohol and drug abuse kids must be reached before the age of 14.

"Talk to your kids about drug and alcohol abuse early."

Lead Author Joel Swendsen, Ph.D. from the University of Bordeaux, France and several of his colleagues analyzed the interviews of 10,123 kids ages 13-18 in the United States. They discovered that by the time kids were in the 17-18 year old range 78% of them had tried drinking alcohol.

About 47% of those teenagers drank more than 12 drinks per year, which is considered ‘regular drinking’. Because this is not a longitudinal study there is no way of knowing what their adult drinking behavior will be. However, the study did predict that around 15% of them would likely fall into the category of ‘lifetime abuse’.

As far as drug abuse goes, 81% of the kids admitted that they had the opportunity to use drugs, even though only 42% had chosen to use, by the age of 18. Drug abuse was reported in 16%.

The good news is that at the early age of 14 those who had tried drinking or experimented with drugs did not always end up abusing alcohol and drugs. However, later onset of drug use resulted in less drug abuse and dependence.

The great thing about this study is the sample size. With over 10,000 racially diverse American boys and girls in the pool, the numbers are more representative of adolescents all over the U.S. than with a smaller study.

The conclusion that the researchers came to after analyzing all of these studies is that preventative measures are best attempted earlier rather than later.

Both drug and alcohol education and treatment should start early to make a difference in the lives of teens and their futures as adults.

This study was published in the Archives of General Psychology, April 2012. Overseen by the National Institute of Health and the National Institute of Mental Health in coordination with the University of Bordeaux, National Center for Scientific Research, Emma Pendleton Bradley Hospital, and Department of Psychology at Wesleyan University. No conflicts of interest were found and no financial information was given.

Review Date: 
April 6, 2012