A typology of cannabis-related problems among individuals with repeated illegal drug use in the first three decades of life: Evidence for heterogeneity and different treatment needs

Hans-Ulrich Wittchen, Silke Behrendt, Michael Höfler, Axel Perkonigg, Jürgen Rehm, Roselind Lieb, Katja Beesdo
Drug and Alcohol Dependence 2009 June 1, 102 (1): 151-7

BACKGROUND: Cannabis use (CU) and disorders (CUD) are highly prevalent among adolescents and young adults. We aim to identify clinically meaningful latent classes of users of cannabis and other illegal substances with distinct problem profiles.

METHODS: N=3021 community subjects aged 14-24 at baseline were followed-up over a period ranging up to 10 years. Substance use (SU) and disorders (SUD) were assessed with the DSM-IV/M-CIDI. Latent class analysis (LCA) was conducted with a subset of N=1089 subjects with repeated illegal SU. The variables entered in the LCA were CU-related problems, CUD, other SUD, and other mental disorders.

RESULTS: Four latent classes were identified: "Unproblematic CU" (class 1: 59.2%), "Primary alcohol use disorders" (class 2: 14.4%), "Delinquent cannabis/alcohol DSM-IV-abuse" (class 3: 17.9%), "CUD with multiple problems" (class 4: 8.5%). Range and level of CU-related problems were highest in classes 3 and 4. Comorbidity with other mental disorders was highest in classes 2 and 4. The probability of alcohol disorders and unmet treatment needs was considerable in classes 2-4.

CONCLUSION: While the majority of subjects with repeated illegal SU did not experience notable problems over the 10-year period, a large minority (40.8%) experienced problematic outcomes, distinguished by clinically meaningful profiles. The data underline the need for specifically tailored interventions for adolescents with problematic CU and highlight the potentially important role of alcohol and other mental disorders.

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