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Drug Alcohol Depend. 2002 Dec 1;68(3):309-22.

Substance use, abuse and dependence in adolescence: prevalence, symptom profiles and correlates.

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  • 1Institute for Behavioral Genetics, University of Colorado, Campus Box 447, Boulder, CO 80309, USA.


We present data on the lifetime prevalence of substance use, abuse and dependence in adolescents obtained through structured psychiatric interviews and self-report questionnaires. Most notably, we evaluate symptom profiles based on DSM-IV abuse and dependence criteria for tobacco, alcohol and marijuana, including a gender comparison. Participants are 3,072 adolescents (12-18 years) drawn from three community-based family samples in Colorado. Age trends suggest that substance use is a developmental phenomenon, which increases almost linearly from early to late adolescence. Substance use disorders are less common than experimentation in adolescence, but approximately 1 in 4 adolescents in the oldest cohorts meets criteria for abuse for at least one substance, and 1 in 5 meets criteria for substance dependence. By age 18 nearly 1 in 3 adolescents report daily smoking and 8.6% meet criteria for tobacco dependence. Although alcohol is the most commonly abused substance (10%), a slightly larger proportion of adolescents meet criteria for dependence on marijuana (4.3%) than alcohol (3.5%). Gender differences in prevalence of use more often show greater use in males than females. Males more frequently meet criteria for dependence on alcohol and marijuana in late adolescence, while females are more often nicotine dependent. A comparison of abuse and dependence symptom profiles shows some interesting variability across substances, and suggests that manifestations of a subset of symptoms are gender specific.

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