Risks from early exposure to drugs and alcohol

A new research paper published today in the journal Psychological Science, has looked at the effects of early exposure of drugs and alcohol in New Zealand adolescents.

Many adolescents experiment with illicit drugs and alcohol; research has shown that exposure to illicit drugs and alcohol prior to the age of 15 statistically predicts substance disorders in adulthood, as well as risky sexual behaviours, early pregnancy, low education attainment and crime. A key question, however, is whether exposure to drugs and alcohol prior to the age of 15 is harmful, or if it is normal for adolescents to experiment with these substances with the majority not becoming addicts or ruining their lives.

This 30-year prospective Dunedin study found approximately 50% of adolescents exposed to alcohol and illicit drugs prior to age 15 had no conduct-problem history, yet were still at an increased risk for adult substance dependence, herpes infection, early pregnancy, and crime. The authors recommend that efforts to reduce or delay early substance exposure may prevent a wide range of adult health problems and should not be restricted to adolescents who are already at risk.

Media Roundup

Dominion Post: Drugs just as likely to make kids bad

Christchurch Press: Study exposes perils of early teenage drinking


Candice L. Odgers CL, Caspi A, Nagin DA, et al. Is It Important to Prevent Early Exposure to Drugs and Alcohol Among Adolescents? Psychological Science, 2008; October.


To speak to the New Zealand author of this paper, Richie Poulton from the University of Otago, please contact the Science Media Centre on tel: 04 499 5476, email: smc@sciencemediacentre.co.nz