Transmissible risk refers to generational risk or family risk. Some people have a family history of physical or mental health problems, which makes them more vulnerable to developing the same problems. Therefore, there is a transmissible risk of future illness. It is theorized that the risk of developing alcohol use disorder (AUD), cannabis use disorder (CUD), or any substance use disorder (SUD) may be increased as a result of transmissible risk. Another factor that influences the likelihood of developing an SUD is age of first use.
But until now, no study has looked at how age of first use of cannabis versus alcohol affects transmissible risk. Therefore, Levent Kirisci of the Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences at the University of Pittsburgh recently led a study that examined these variables in a group of 339 children. Kirisci followed the children from age 12 through 22 and assessed their risk using the Transmissible Liability Index (TLI). The participants reported the age they first used alcohol, cannabis, or other illegal or legal drugs.
The results revealed that the higher the children scored on the TLI, the younger they were when they started using alcohol or drugs. Also, those who used cannabis before alcohol had a score that was seven times higher than those who first used alcohol. This suggests that children who begin their drug use with cannabis are at a much greater risk of developing dependency than those who use alcohol first. In fact, nearly one-quarter of the participants began with cannabis rather than alcohol, a finding that contradicts that gateway theory. In essence, these findings don’t show that alcohol opened the door for further drug use for the majority of these children. In fact, a large number of them were already using illegal drugs before they experimented with legal drugs or alcohol. Kirisci notes that although this study does not provide evidence that early onset age predicts SUD in general, it does show that the earlier a child starts using drugs or alcohol, the higher their transmissible risk is. “These findings underscore the importance of directing prevention at high-risk youths prior to first substance exposure,” Kirisci said.
Kirisci, L., Tarter, R., Ridenour, T., Zhai, Z. W., Fishbein, D., Reynolds, M., Vanyukov, M. (2012). Age of alcohol and cannabis use onset mediates the association of transmissible risk in childhood and development of alcohol and cannabis disorders: Evidence for common liability. Experimental and Clinical Psychopharmacology. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0030742
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