Substance use disorders extremely common among previously incarcerated youth

Science Spotlight

teenager under arrest
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New research funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse revealed that of previously incarcerated youths, more than 90% of males and nearly 80% of females had a substance use disorder at some point in their lifetime. The longitudinal study randomly sampled 1,829 youth -- ages 10-18 years who entered detention in Cook County, Illinois from 1995-1998 -- and examined how lifetime and past-year prevalence of substance use disorders differed by sex, race/ethnicity and substances abused as the group grew to young adulthood. The participants were re-interviewed up to nine times over 16 years and were assessed for substance-use disorders involving alcohol, marijuana, cocaine, hallucinogen/PCP, opiate, amphetamine, inhalant, sedative and other unspecified drugs.

Other key findings included:

  • Males had higher lifetime prevalence of alcohol and marijuana use disorder whereas females had higher lifetime prevalence of cocaine, opiate, amphetamine, and sedative disorders. Additionally, the prevalence of substance use disorders among females declined more rapidly than among males.
  • Non-Hispanic whites had more than 30 times the odds of having cocaine use disorder than African Americans.
  • Prevalence of any substance use disorder (including alcohol and all drugs) dropped as youth aged.
  • The most common substance use disorders changed as youth aged. At younger ages, marijuana was the most prevalent substance use disorder.  By the end of the study (median age 28), alcohol use disorder surpassed marijuana use disorder.

The findings suggest that substance use disorders after detention differed significantly by sex, race/ethnicity, and substance abused.

For a copy of the abstract, "Health Disparities in Drug and Alcohol Use Disorder: A 12-Year Longitudinal Study of Youths After Detention," published in the American Journal of Public Health, go to

For more information about drug use among college-age and young adults, go to:

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