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Dev Psychopathol. 1999 Fall;11(4):657-83.

Etiology of early age onset substance use disorder: a maturational perspective.

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  • 1Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 15213, USA.


The etiology of early age onset substance use disorder (SUD), an Axis I psychiatric illness, is examined from the perspective of the multifactorial model of complex disorders. Beginning at conception, genetic and environment interactions produce a sequence of biobehavioral phenotypes during development which bias the ontogenetic pathway toward SUD. One pathway to SUD is theorized to emanate from a deviation in somatic and neurological maturation, which, in the context of adverse environments, predisposes to affective and behavioral dysregulation as the cardinal SUD liability-contributing phenotype. Dysregulation progresses via epigenesis from difficult temperament in infancy to conduct problems in childhood to substance use by early adolescence and to severe SUD by young adulthood.

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