Teens are likely to try alcohol before they try either tobacco or marijuana, a new study concludes. The findings come from a study of 2,835 U.S. high school seniors, The Washington Post reports.
The researchers from Texas A&M University and the University of Florida examined data from the Monitoring the Future study, an annual survey of teen substance use. The researchers found that teens were less likely to start using marijuana first, compared with alcohol and tobacco.
“Alcohol was the most widely used substance among respondents, initiated earliest, and also the first substance most commonly used in the progression of substance use,” the researchers wrote in the Journal of School Health.
Teens who started drinking alcohol in sixth grade reported significantly greater lifetime illicit substance use, and more frequent illicit substance use, compared with teens who started drinking in ninth grade or later. Teens who had their first drink in sixth or seventh grade subsequently tried an average of almost two illicit substances later. In contrast, teens who didn’t start drinking until 12th grade only tried an average of 0.4 substances.
“Overall, early onset substance initiation, whether that is alcohol, tobacco, or other drugs, exerts a powerful influence over future health risk behaviors,” the researchers noted.
The researchers say their findings “underscore the importance of screening for substance use, even among youth enrolled in elementary/middle school. In addition, school prevention programs should begin in elementary school (third grade) and target alcohol use.”