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Updated 2:00 PM January 13, 2004



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Monitoring the Future
Substance use still common at age 35

The proportion of 35 year olds who abuse alcohol and use illicit drugs is higher than might be expected, a U-M study shows.

More than 32 percent of men report heavy drinking—defined as having five or more drinks in a row—at least once in the past two weeks. Nearly 13 percent of men and 7 percent of women report using marijuana in the past month, and 7 percent of men and 8 percent of women report misusing prescription drugs in the past year.

The study, published in the January 2004 issue of the American Journal of Public Health, uses data on 7,541 respondents from the Monitoring the Future study funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse and conducted annually at the Institute for Social Research (ISR) since 1975. The men and women who graduated from high school between 1977 and 1983 were selected randomly after graduation to participate in follow-up surveys every two years.

"We found that substance use was surprisingly prevalent at the start of midlife," says Alicia Merline, an ISR researcher who is the lead author of the article. "And we also found that it is not restricted to stereotypical drug users with low socioeconomic status."

After controlling for gender, education and income, the researchers found that professionals are equally as likely to use marijuana as those in other job classifications. Nearly 10 percent of the 35-year-old males with professional jobs report having used marijuana in the past month, for example.

Merline and co-authors Patrick O'Malley, John Schulenberg, Jerald Bachman and Lloyd Johnston, all psychologists at ISR, discovered a high level of stability of substance use over the 18-year time period covered by the follow-up study. "The foundation for later substance use is set for most people by the time they finish high school," Merline says.

The association between high school experience and cigarette smoking at age 35 is particularly strong, the researchers noted. Having even tried cigarettes at all before graduating from high school increases the odds of smoking at age 35 by more than three times the odds of those who had never tried cigarettes by their senior year.

The odds of smoking at age 35 were more than 12 times higher for participants who used cigarettes during the month prior to their 12th grade survey than for those who had never smoked by their senior year. And the odds of smoking at age 35 were 42 times higher for those who were daily smokers during 12th grade than for those who had never smoked by their senior year.

Similar patterns were found for episodic heavy drinking, and for the use of marijuana and other illicit drugs.

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