Alcohol, Drug Use Prevalent Among U.S. Adolescents

Onset of alcohol abuse seen at median age of 14 years; drug abuse onset at 14 or 15 years

WEDNESDAY, April 4 (HealthDay News) -- Alcohol and drug use is prevalent among teens, with the median age of alcohol and drug abuse occurring during adolescence, according to a study published in the April issue of the Archives of General Psychiatry.

To determine the prevalence and sociodemographic correlates of alcohol and illicit drug use, Joel Swendsen, Ph.D., of the University of Bordeaux in France, and associates conducted a cross-sectional survey of 10,123 U.S. adolescents using a modified version of the Composite International Diagnostic Interview.

By late adolescence, the researchers found that 78.2 percent of adolescents had consumed alcohol, 47.1 percent had reached regular drinking levels, and 15.1 percent met the criteria for lifetime abuse. Of the oldest adolescents, 81.4 percent reported having had the opportunity to use illicit drugs, 42.5 percent reported drug use, and 16.4 percent reported drug abuse. Alcohol abuse with or without dependence started at a median of 14 years; drug abuse with dependence, age 14; and drug abuse without dependence, age 15. The correlations based on age, sex, and race/ethnicity often varied with the previous stage of use.

"Alcohol and drug use is common in U.S. adolescents, and the findings of this study indicate that most cases of abuse have their initial onset in this important period of development," the authors write. "Prevention and treatment efforts would benefit from careful attention to the correlates and risk factors that are specific to the stage of substance use in adolescents."

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