The relevance of age at first alcohol and nicotine use for initiation of cannabis use and progression to cannabis use disorders

Silke Behrendt, Katja Beesdo-Baum, Michael Höfler, Axel Perkonigg, Gerhard Bühringer, Roselind Lieb, Hans-Ulrich Wittchen
Drug and Alcohol Dependence 2012 June 1, 123 (1-3): 48-56

BACKGROUND: A younger age at onset of use of a specific substance is a well-documented risk-factor for a substance use disorder (SUD) related to that specific substance. However, the cross-substance relationship between a younger age at onset of alcohol use (AU) and nicotine use (NU) and the risk of cannabis use disorders (CUD) in adolescence and early adulthood remains unclear.

AIMS: To identify the sequence of and latency between initial AU/NU and initial cannabis use (CU). To investigate whether younger age at AU- and NU-onset is associated with any and earlier CU-onset and a higher risk of transition from first CU to CUD, taking into account externalizing disorders (ED) and parental substance use disorders as putative influential factors.

METHODS: Prospective-longitudinal community study with N=3021 subjects (baseline age 14-24) and up to four assessment waves over up to ten years with additional direct parental and family history information. Substance use and CUD were assessed with the DSM-IV/M-CIDI.

RESULTS: Most subjects with CU reported AU (99%) and NU (94%). Among users of both substances, 93% reported AU prior to CU (87% for NU). After adjustment for ED and parental substance use disorders younger age at AU-onset was associated with any CU. Younger age at NU-onset was associated with earlier CU initiation. Younger age at AU- and NU-onset was not associated with a higher risk of CUD.

CONCLUSIONS: The cross-substance relevance of younger age at first AU and NU for the risk of CUD is limited to early CU involvement.

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