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Original Article
December 2003

Genetic and Environmental Influences on Substance Initiation, Use, and Problem Use in Adolescents

Author Affiliations

From the Department of Psychology (Dr Rhee) and the Institute for Behavioral Genetics (Drs Rhee, Hewitt, Young, Corley, and Stallings), University of Colorado at Boulder; and the Division of Substance Dependence, Department of Psychiatry, University of Colorado Health Sciences Center, Denver (Dr Crowley).

Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2003;60(12):1256-1264. doi:10.1001/archpsyc.60.12.1256
Abstract

Background  We conducted a sibling/twin/adoption study of substance initiation, use, and problem use, estimating the relative contribution of genetic and environmental influences on these phenotypes in adolescents.

Methods  The participants were 345 monozygotic twin pairs, 337 dizygotic twin pairs, 306 biological sibling pairs, and 74 adoptive sibling pairs assessed by the Colorado Center for the Genetics and Treatment of Antisocial Drug Dependence, Denver and Boulder. The initiation, use, and problem use of tobacco, alcohol, marijuana, and other illicit drugs were assessed. Tetrachoric correlations were computed for each group, and univariate model-fitting analyses were conducted.

Results  There were moderate to substantial genetic influences, with the exception of alcohol use and any drug use, and modest to moderate shared environmental influences on substance initiation, use, and problem use. For alcohol and any drug, heritability was higher and the magnitude of shared environmental influences was lower for problem use than for initiation or use. Environmental influences shared only by twin pairs had a significant effect on tobacco initiation, alcohol use, and any drug use. For tobacco use, tobacco problem use, and marijuana initiation, heritability was higher and the magnitude of shared environmental influences was lower in female than in male adolescents. There was no evidence for sex-specific genetic or shared environmental influences on any variable.

Conclusions  The moderate to substantial heritabilities found for adolescents in the present study are comparable to those found in twin studies of adult substance use and substance use disorders. The finding that problem use is more heritable than initiation and use is also consistent with the results of adult twin studies. The significance of environmental influences shared only by twin pairs on tobacco initiation, alcohol use, and any drug use suggests the influences of peers, accessibility of substances, and sibling interaction.

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