When Do People Start Using Alcohol and Drugs?

Addressing the frequently asked questions dealing with addiction.


Will you comment on ages at which young people start alcohol and drug use?


A study from the Addiction Research Institute in Ontario, Canada (Childhood Experiments, Adult Addictions), published in Health Education and Behavior (December, 1997) revealed “the earliest risk of onset of alcohol (ages 10 and 11), is followed closely by the illicit use of prescribed drugs (age 11) and the use of hallucinogens (age 12).

Children begin to face high risks for experimentation with marijuana and hashish between 13 and 14 years. Risks for the initiation into crack/cocaine begin at ages 15 and 16.

It is believed 16 is the pivotal year for adolescents, who face increasing peer pressure to experiment with drugs and alcohol, while being “afforded a greater degree of adult status by their parents.”  After 18, risks for alcohol and marijuana decline and by age 22 the risk has nearly ended.

The study suggests the age of initial drug use helps predict which addicts will eventually be able to stop their drug use in adulthood. Those who started drug use before 15 were more likely to continue in their addiction than those who start after the age of 17-19. Females were less apt to experiment with, and indulge in, illicit drugs than males and were found to have overall higher addiction-cessation success rates than males.

"Sober Days" ran in the Palm Springs daily newspaper, the Desert Sun, for several years in the 1990s-2000s. The popular Q&A column was written by Dr. James West, the Betty Ford Center’s first medical director. He remained with the Betty Ford Center until 2007, when he retired at age 93.

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