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Am J Public Health. 1995 Jan;85(1):41-7.

The natural history of drug use from adolescence to the mid-thirties in a general population sample.

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  • 1Department of Psychiatry, Columbia University, New York, NY.



This study sought to describe patterns of initiation, persistence, and cessation in drug use in individuals from their late 20s to their mid-30s, within a broad perspective that spans 19 years from adolescence to adulthood.


A fourth wave of personal interviews was conducted at ages 34-35 with a cohort of men and women (n = 1160) representative of adolescents formerly enrolled in New York State public secondary high schools. A school survey was administered at ages 15-16, and personal interviews with participants and school absentees were conducted at ages 24-25 and 28-29. Retrospective continuous histories of 12 drug classes were obtained at each follow-up.


There was no initiation into alcohol and cigarettes and hardly any initiation into illicit drugs after age 29, the age at which most use ceased. The largest proportion of new users was observed for prescribed psychoactives. Periods of highest use since adolescence based on relative and absolute criteria were delineated. Among daily users, the proportions of heavy users declined for alcohol and marijuana but not for cigarettes.


Cigarettes are the most persistent of any drug used. Drug-focused interventions must target adolescents and young adults.

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