Are Drug Experimenters Better Adjusted Than Abstainers and Users?

A Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Marijuana Use

Published in: Journal of Adolescent Health, v. 39, no. 4, Oct. 2006, p. 488-494

Posted on RAND.org on December 31, 2005

by Joan S. Tucker, Phyllis L. Ellickson, Rebecca L. Collins, David J. Klein

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PURPOSE: Experimentation with substance use is normative during adolescence and prior research suggests that adolescents who refrain from experimentation may be psychologically maladjusted. This longitudinal study compared lifetime marijuana abstainers (n = 1177), experimenters (n = 873), and frequent users (n = 205) at grade 12 on psychosocial functioning during late adolescence and young adulthood. METHODS: Participants were recruited from middle schools in 1985 (grade 7) and assessed repeatedly, including in 1990 (grade 12) and 1995 (age 23). Self-report surveys assessed lifetime substance use at grade 12, and psychosocial functioning at grade 12 and age 23. Group differences after controlling for key demographics were estimated using multivariate logistic regression and analysis of covariance. RESULTS: Adolescent abstainers from marijuana often fared better (and in no case worse) than experimenters and frequent users both concurrently and later in life on school engagement, family and peer relations, mental health, and deviant behavior. Similar results were found in ancillary analyses using a definition of adolescent abstainer that also accounted for cigarette and alcohol use. CONCLUSIONS: Results refute the idea that adolescents who abstain from substance use are maladjusted, and suggest instead that they function better than experimenters later in life, during the transition to young adulthood.

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