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Guest Post: The Ins and Outs of Drug Testing

A drug testing program

Laboratory (Photo credit: tk-link)

can be an important part of a company, school or drug rehabilitation center’s policy. Some parents have even taken it upon themselves to initiate drug testing in their own homes in the interest of keeping their children drug free.

And while most drug testing programs use the urine drug testing method, there are other ways of testing for substance abuse. We will look at the three most common drug testing methods and the advantages and disadvantages of each.

Instant drug tests and lab drug tests

 

All drug testing falls into one of these two categories.

 

Instant tests, as the name implies, can be done on the spot and give you instant results in just a few simple steps.

 

For laboratory testing, you of course have to go to a laboratory where the tests are performed with sophisticated equipment. Samples can be collected either at the laboratory or collected off site and taken to the lab for testing.

 

Drug testing programs in business or institutional environments will usually include a two step process that includes both instant and laboratory tests. An instant test will be performed initially and if that returns a positive result, a follow up test on the sample will be performed at a laboratory. These lab tests are important because instant test results aren’t admissible in court. If the test result is to be used for a legal matter, such as termination of employment, for example, the sample must be laboratory tested for confirmation purposes.

 

The obvious advantage of instant drug testing is that it gives you instant results. The instant drug testing kits are also inexpensive compared to booking laboratory time for drug testing. With many kits, it’s also possible to test for multiple drugs at the same time. Some of them can even test for over a dozen drugs that include all the common street drugs, plus prescription drugs.

 

As for disadvantages, aside from the fact that the results are not admissible in court, another knock on instant drug tests is that they do give the occasional false positive reading. Even worse, they also give the occasional false negative reading.

 

On the laboratory side, the advantages are that the testing is handled by professionals and the results can be used in court, as they confirm the presence of drugs. The expense, plus the time it takes to get results, which ranges from hours to weeks, are disadvantages to laboratory testing.

 

By combining instant drug testing and laboratory testing, costs can be kept down by primarily using the instant tests and only sending the samples that give a positive result away for laboratory confirmation.

 

Different Types of drug testing

 

Although you may occasionally see blood and sweat referenced in terms of drug testing, and both those bodily fluids can be used, the three most common ways of drug testing are by using samples of urine, saliva or hair.

 

It is possible to use an instant testing kit when using urine or saliva to drug test. With these kits, you can collect a sample anywhere (you’ll need a private place for urine, obviously) and test the substances right on the spot. Or, you can collect the samples and have them sent away to a laboratory for testing.

 

Hair testing cannot be done instantly. Hair samples can be collected any place, but the actual testing will have to be done at a laboratory.

 

Urine

 

As far as the most common way to drug test, urine reigns supreme. It’s used in the majority of employment testing, pre-employment screening, military and sports drug testing.

 

Depending on the type of drug and other factors like a person’s body composition, urine tests can detect drugs in a person’s system from a few hours after they’ve ingested them until about a week afterward, maybe a bit longer.

 

The instant urine drug tests require a person to give a sample of a certain size and then seeing how that urine reacts with specific chemicals meant to detect drug metabolites.

 

Tests come in different formats like testing strips, where you dip the strip into the urine, or testing cassettes where you have to transfer some of the urine onto the cassette. A popular instant urine test for obvious reasons is the all-on-one cups where you get the sample donor to fill a cup and you put a lid on the cup and push a button to enact the test, never needing to actually interact with the liquid.

 

Laboratory urine tests will involve doing an instant drug test (known as immunoassay tests) and if the results are positive, running a more sophisticated (and expensive) test that usually involve gas chromatography–mass spectrometry or a similar type of test.

 

Obviously the advantages are that this type of testing can be done quickly and relatively inexpensively, plus, because it’s the most common type of drug testing, most people are familiar with it already.

 

The disadvantages of urine testing are that the sample collection can’t quite be done anywhere. The collection process is also a bit invasive. In some organizations like the military, sample collection must be watched.

 

And urine tests can be cheated. Some common forms of cheating include:

 

  • swapping in someone else’s clean urine,
  • drinking excessive amounts of water or other liquids to dilute the sample, and
  • adding a foreign substance (salt, vinegar, bleach etc.) to the sample.

 

Fortunately, these types of cheating can be easily thwarted. Temperature strips can detect when urine isn’t body temperature, which a fresh sample would be. Also, observation of the sample collection prevents swapping. Many tests can detect watered down samples and properly trained testing technicians will be able to spot a diluted sample, not to mention that most drugs aren’t water soluble so this won’t help people cheat in a lot of cases anyway. Many modern instant tests are also equipped to detect adulterated samples, as well as the aforementioned properly trained drug testing technicians. Laboratories will have safeguards in place to detect cheating.

 

Saliva

 

Often referred to as oral fluid tests, they involve taking a swab of fluid from the mouth of the sample donor. The results are available instantly and these tests can detect drug use from about an hour after usage to a few days after usage depending on the type of drug.

 

The relatively short period of detection is one of their disadvantages.

 

However, a clear advantage is that the collection process for saliva testing can be done anywhere and can be observed without privacy concerns.

 

As far as cheating, it has been noted that gum and cigarettes can interfere with the results of these tests, so precautions have to be taken to ensure no gum is chewed or cigarettes smoked immediately prior to the test.

 

Hair

 

Hair testing involves cutting several dozen strands of hair from a person’s head or body and sending them to a laboratory for testing (the sample collection can also be done in some labs). Short hair is perfectly fine to use and, as mentioned, body hair can also be used. And while cutting off a person’s hair is obviously somewhat invasive, the hair is cut from the back of the head from a few different spots so as to not be obvious.

 

In the lab, the hair will be liquified and then split into its various components to check for drug metabolites. A huge advantage for hair testing is that it can check for drug use as far back as three months prior to the date of the test. And, not only can it detect the type of drug used, but also how frequently it was used.

 

Another huge advantage is that it is impossible to cheat. The internet is full of “advice” for people on how to cheat a hair drug test, but no shampoo, dye or bleach can change the molecular makeup of the hair, which is what the tests look at.

 

However, aside from the aforementioned invasiveness, hair testing has other disadvantages. It’s more expensive than either urine or saliva testing, there is no instant option and drug metabolites won’t show up in hair until about a week after usage. So, for example, if a person used cocaine on Tuesday and a hair sample was taken from them the following Thursday, the cocaine usage from two days beforehand would not be detected.

 

Whether used in a professional environment or in the home, drug testing can help keep employees, students, children, athletes and others free from the harmful effects of drugs. Each has its own advantages and disadvantages and which one is best for any given situation will depend on cost and other factors.

 

About Our Guest Blogger: Lena Butler

Lena Butler is a health blogger and customer service representative for TestCountry, a San Diego based point of service diagnostic test service provider that offers a wide range of laboratory and instant drug and general health testing kits. You can follow Test Country on Twitter and on Facebook. Follow Lena on Twitter as well!

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Addiction Alcohol

Caffeine + Alcohol = Delusion

Mixing alcohol and energy drinks continues to bedevil scientists and clinical professionals, while continuing to intrigue and seduce young revelers, creating an illusion of false security. As I’ve said in the past, mixing the two just makes for a wide-awake drunk. It doesn’t actually make your intoxication less viable nor does it lesson its behavioral impact. If anything, it makes things more dangerous and encourages reckless behavior. With the additional stimulation (remember, alcohol initially presents as a stimulant), one can’t accurately intuit how drunk they actually are. And when you add caffeine to the mix, your body misses the cue to stop (sleepiness, et cetera). The results of a new study published in Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research confirm this: Cecile Marczinkski, a Northern Kentucky University psychologist “found that combining energy drinks such as Red Bull with vodka or other liquors effectively removes any built-in checks your body has for overindulging.”

Marczinkski also talks about the fact that there are other stimulating ingredients aside from caffeine added to these drinks which may be a contributing factor.  When she compared data from those who drank beverages with caffeine vs. alcoholic energy drinks, Marczinkski’s findings showed the alcoholic energy drinks “resulted in far greater alertness than the caffeine alone.” So, maybe caffeine isn’t the sole offender, but it’s certainly a negative factor in this ongoing issue.

We talk about this–a lot: We read tons of studies about mixing energy drinks and alcohol; we read news reports of tragedies directly associated with this subject (anyone remember Four-Loko?). And yet, more and more kids continue to mix the two, incurring more potential instances of erraticism and instability fueled by ill-perceived invincibility. The bottom line is, adding a caffeine/sugar boost to your drink won’t make it safer for you to drive, it won’t increase positive decision-making capabilities, and it won’t make you more fun to hang out with. It’s yet another bad idea harvested on the path of addiction.

Related articles:

Alcohol and Energy Drinks: A Dangerous Cocktail – – TIME Healthland (alcoholselfhelpnews.wordpress.com)

Together, Caffeine And Booze Impair Judgment More Than Booze Alone (addictionts.com)

 

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Addiction Alcohol Alcoholism Holidays Mental Health Recovery

New Beginnings

Image via Wikipedia

It’s Passover, and you know what that means? It’s that time of year where it’s customary to drink four glasses of wine through dinner as part of the Passover story! It means giant family gatherings, with the myriad of wacky personalities. It also may mean some anxiety for the newcomer (or even someone with time, you never know!) For some, it’s this Passover week, for others, it might be the upcoming Easter Sunday. Either way, self-care is key. Ask for help if you need it, and have an exit plan–better to have one and not need it than to need it and not have it!

This particular holiday reminds me of my early introduction to alcohol. My family didn’t drink that often; holidays were the exception. Still, I have distinct memories of sitting at the family Passover table, with my thimble full of Manischewitz wine, thinking I was the coolest kid in the world. I remember the warmth in my belly, and the slight fuzz in my head (I would get sneaky and steal sips from other folk’s glasses). I remember thinking I was a part of the adult world, and a real part of my family. It was a childhood delusion, of course, but the memory stuck.

Wine has deep roots in some religions, for example, in Christianity it represents the blood of Christ, and in Judaism, the fruit of the vine. It’s an accepted, expected, ritualistic piece of the religious meal. But as we get sober and learn to participate in the rituals of our varying cultures, we must learn to make adjustments. No one wants to see you drunkenly opening the door for Elijah! We drink grape juice instead of wine, and we learn to adapt the rituals and meals to our sober, clean lives.

Passover is about freedom from slavery and tyranny; and like Easter, it’s reflective of Spring and new beginnings. What apropos likeness to our recovery! Here, we are offered an opportunity to begin to view our sobriety as freedom from the tyranny of drugs and alcohol. Our recovery is our new beginning and our new life. Remember what Chuck C. said: “You cannot think your way into a new way of acting, but you can act your way into a new way of thinking.” Have a safe, sober, and joyous holiday week.

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Alcohol Parenting

Parenting Style and Teen Drinking

(Image by Mark Turner via Flickr)

   For teens, their peers are their greatest social influence, particularly when it comes to experimenting with alcohol, etc. When they enter middle school, and find themselves in the hands of new school corridors and playgrounds, a child’s socialization center changes. No longer are their parents directly involved at school and for the first time, our kids are relatively on their own. While the norms and values learned in the home are still valid, applicable and deeply planted, the  heady influence of peer groups, the need to fit in, and the general desire for social acceptability often attempt to nullify these base values. Peer influence becomes as distinctly influential as that of parents. The irony is, this is normal social behavior.
    Studies and research are beginning to talk about how parenting styles can influence how a teen drinks. Stephen Bahr, a professor of sociology at BYU, along with some colleagues, took a look at how teens are using alcohol. They noticed a pattern in drinking behaviors as associated with different parenting styles, particularly the rigid approach vs. one that’s casual. In their 5000-person survey, Behr found that kids hailing from laisez-faire, indulgent parents where consequences were rarely doled out  were “3 times more likely to binge drink,” and at the other extreme, kids raised in overly strict environments were also more likely to binge drink. According to Bahr, “Kids in that (the strict) environment tend not to internalize the values and understand why they should not drink.” When the boundaries are too rigid, one’s ability to make self-directed judgment calls becomes limited, at the same time, kids with little to no boundaries suffer from a lack of a true moral compass, making loose decision-making skills the norm. Essentially, the study shows both extremes have negative consequences. Bahr also states, “While parents didn’t have much of an effect on whether their teens tried alcohol, they can have a significant impact on the more dangerous type of drinking”
    How can we do this? Research shows we need to begin by borrowing elements from each of the two parenting styles, creating a style based on balance. Essentially, recognize your kids when they’ve done something positive, but hold the line, maintaining a firm boundary when they go off track. We know there are many components involved in teenage drinking: some may simply be genes, in which case, parental transparency is invaluable; it could be a particular group of friends one’s associating with; it could even be turmoil in the home, creating a sense of emotional isolation for our teen. For starters, begin talking to your kids about alcohol and drugs, even as early as the 4th grade. They aren’t too young to know, and frankly, it’s best if it comes from you, dear reader, than the renegade ideology of a misguided friend. 

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Alcohol

Alcohol: Worse Than Heroin and Crack

Image via Wikipedia

   Alcohol is worse than heroin and crack, according to a new study published by the British medical journal, The Lancet.  A panel of experts examined various emotional, social, physical, and psychological problems caused by a variety of drugs, and they determined that alcohol was the most harmful overall. The study used a new scale to assess damage caused by and the overall harmfulness of 20 drugs; using that scale, alcohol received a score of 72 on a scale of 100, according to the study. CNN reports the study’s findings that “Heroin, crack cocaine and methamphetamine were the most harmful drugs to individuals, while alcohol, heroin and crack cocaine were the most harmful to others.”
    Aside from the physical harm alcohol does to one on a micro level, it also paves a path of destruction on a macro level, carrying with it the repercussions from drunk driving and other catastrophic social behaviors, which can have severe consequences. It brings to mind the similar issue we have regarding smoking, wherein the abused substance is legal, and therefore isn’t stigmatized in the same manner as heroin or crack cocaine might be. However, the one thing that really sets alcohol apart is this: there seems to be a recognized level of “safety” regarding having a drink, whereas that same level of safety doesn’t exist for other drugs, including nicotine. In a sense, this adds fodder to the findings regarding alcohol: with a level of safety, one also has a built-in excuse. With that excuse comes denial, thus the pattern of potential addiction forms. It’s easier to believe you’re “fine” if you have one too many drinks, because you bought your intoxicant legally, and because it’s an accepted social norm. According to addiction expert Dr. Jeffrey Parsons, chair of the psychology department at Hunter College, “Alcohol dependance tends to be masked more often than dependence upon other drugs. With alcohol, someone can feel like a law abiding citizen despite the fact that they are abusing a drug.”

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Alcohol

Study Links Early Alcohol Use and Behavior Problems in Young Adulthood

PRESS RELEASE
RAND Corporation

Children who are drinking alcohol by 7th grade are more likely to suffer employment problems, abuse other drugs, and commit criminal and violent acts once they reach young adulthood, according to a RAND Health study released today.

Following a group of young people from 7th grade through age 23, researchers found that youthful drinking was not only associated with an increased likelihood of people having academic and social problems during their teenage years, but was associated with a heightened risk of behavior problems at least through their early 20s.

“Early drinkers do not necessarily mature out of this problematic lifestyle once they become young adults,” said Phyllis Ellickson, a RAND researcher and the study’s lead author. “Early alcohol use is a signal that someone is likely to have more problems as they transition into adulthood.”

Researchers say the findings suggest that adolescents who drink are at high risk and should be targeted early with intervention programs that focus not only on alcohol, but also cigarette smoking, use of illicit drugs, and perhaps other problem behaviors. The study appears in the May issue of the medical journal Pediatrics.

Underage drinking is a major national problem, with estimates suggesting that by the 8th grade one-fourth of all adolescents have consumed alcohol to the point of intoxication. In addition, adolescent drinking plays a key role in the four leading causes of death among teens–car accidents, accidental injuries, homicides and suicides.

The RAND findings are from a study that followed about 3,400 youths who were recruited in 1985 from 30 socially and economically diverse schools in California and Oregon when they were enrolled in 7th grade. Participants were surveyed during the 7th grade, 12th grade and at age 23 about their current use of alcohol, tobacco and other drugs, and about a number of behavioral issues.

At the outset of the study, about three-quarters of the 7th graders had used alcohol. Researchers labeled 46 percent as “experimenters” (had consumed alcohol, but fewer than three times in the past year and not within the past month) and 31 percent as “drinkers” (three or more alcoholic drinks within the past year or any drinking in the past month). Nondrinkers (those who had never drunk alcohol) accounted for 23 percent of the 7th graders.

Students who used alcohol by the 7th grade were far more likely than nondrinkers to report using other substances, stealing and having school problems. For example, the drinkers were 19 times more likely to be weekly smokers or hard drug users, and 4.5 times more likely to have stolen items in the past year when compared with nondrinkers. Experimenters reported fewer problems, but were still 2.5 times more likely to have used hard drugs and twice as likely to have stolen when compared with nondrinkers.

The differences remained at the 12th grade, although they were less pronounced. Compared with nondrinkers, drinkers were 5 times more likely to be weekly marijuana users, 3 times more likely to use hard drugs or experience several drug-related problems in the past year, twice as likely to have been suspended or dropped out of school, and about twice as likely to engage in violent or criminal behavior in the past year.

Experimenters were about twice as likely to be weekly marijuana users, use hard drugs, and have multiple drug problems, 1.2 to 1.7 times more likely to engage in violent or criminal behavior, and 1.5 times more likely to commit a felony or be suspended from school.

“Early drinking clearly is associated with other problems that develop in school and in many other settings,” said Joan S. Tucker, a RAND psychologist and another author of the report. “Differences between drinkers and nondrinkers show up early and persist over time.”

At age 23, those identified in 7th grade as drinkers still showed significantly more behavior problems than those who had been nondrinkers. The drinkers were 2 to 3 times more likely to use hard drugs, experience multiple drug problems, or have undergone alcohol or drug treatment, 3 times more likely to have been arrested for drunk driving, twice as likely to engage in violent or criminal behavior in the past year, and nearly 1.5 times more likely to report missing work for no reason.

The differences were smaller for the group identified as experimenters in 7th grade. Compared with nondrinkers, experimenters were twice as likely to have multiple drug problems, 1.6 times as likely to engage in criminal behavior, use hard drugs, or have undergone alcohol or drug treatment, and nearly twice as likely to have been arrested for drunk driving.

“These results suggest that drinking in early adolescence may be among the most important risk factors for a wide variety of behavior problems during the transition to young adulthood,” Tucker said. “Preventing drinking initiation before Grade 7 may help reduce these later problems.”

Researchers say it is not clear what mechanisms link early alcohol use to behavior problems later in life. It may be that alcohol disrupts the development of adequate social and academic skills that are needed to succeed later in life. Or early alcohol use may signal that an individual is predisposed to use drugs and develop other behavioral problems.

The research was supported by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. The project also included RAND researcher David J. Klein.

RAND Health is the nation’s largest independent health policy research organization, with a broad research portfolio that focuses on medical quality, health care costs and delivery of health care, among other topics.

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RAND
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Alcohol

Study: 1 in 5 Young People Drink and Drive

December 30, 2004 WASHINGTON (AP)

More than four million people younger under age 21 drove under the influence of drugs or alcohol last year, according to a government report released Wednesday. That’s one in five of all Americans aged 16 to 20.

“That’s an awful lot of kids if you think about it,” said Charlene Lewis, acting director of the Office of Applied Studies at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, which produced the report.

The report, based on a large household survey of drug use, found a small drop in driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol between 2002 and 2003. In 2002, 22 percent drove under the influence; last year, it was 20 percent. Just four percent of these young people reported being arrested and booked for driving under the influence in the year before they were interviewed.

The report was released Wednesday in advance of New Year’s Eve in hopes of raising consciousness of the issue on a night when the risk of drinking and driving is high, federal officials said. Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death among young people. The data come from face-to-face interviews in the homes of people ages 12 and up, part of the National Survey on Drug Use and Health. People were asked to define for themselves what driving “under the influence” of drugs or alcohol means. Young people were most likely to drink alcohol and then drive, with 17 percent admitting this. Fourteen percent said they had driven under the influence of illicit drugs, and eight percent reported driving after consuming a combination of alcohol and drugs.

The rates were highest among people who lived in the Midwest and among those who lived outside of metro areas. Researchers did not have data to compare the 2002-03 rates to earlier years. But a similar survey of teen behavior found that drunken driving fell steadily between 1984 and the early 1990s, as media campaigns pleaded “friends don’t let friends drive drunk” and urged partygoers to choose a designated driver.

The rates remained level from 1992 to 1995 before jumping a bit in the late 1990s and then declining a little in 2003, said Lloyd Johnston, principal investigator for the University of Michigan’s Monitoring the Future survey of students. “It’s not nearly as serious a problem as it was in the mid ’80s but it’s still a serious problem,” he said. He said that his survey also found that a substantial number of teens rode in cars where drivers had been drinking, adding to the number of young people at risk.

Johnston added that while teens growing up in the 1980s were exposed to heavy media campaigns against drunken driving, that’s not true for today’s teens. He warned of “generational forgetting.”

“Each generation has to be reeducated about the dangers of any of these behaviors,” he said.

“Make sure that every time you talk to your kids about sex, you also talk about drugs and alcohol, and every time you talk to them about drugs and alcohol, you talk to them about sex,” Califano advises. He says kids should learn how the topics are connected, so they are better equipped to deal with challenging situations when they arise.

Experts also suggest keeping an eye on the television shows your children watch, the music they listen to, and the Web sites they visit, because staying aware of outside influences helps parents become better equipped, as well.

Categories
Alcohol

Study Links Early Alcohol Use and Behavior Problems in Young Adulthood

Press Release: RAND – www.rand.org


Children who are drinking alcohol by 7th grade are more likely to suffer employment problems, abuse other drugs, and commit criminal and violent acts once they reach young adulthood, according to a RAND Health study released today.

Following a group of young people from 7th grade through age 23, researchers found that youthful drinking was not only associated with an increased likelihood of people having academic and social problems during their teenage years, but was associated with a heightened risk of behavior problems at least through their early 20s.

“Early drinkers do not necessarily mature out of this problematic lifestyle once they become young adults,” said Phyllis Ellickson, a RAND researcher and the study’s lead author. “Early alcohol use is a signal that someone is likely to have more problems as they transition into adulthood.”

Researchers say the findings suggest that adolescents who drink are at high risk and should be targeted early with intervention programs that focus not only on alcohol, but also cigarette smoking, use of illicit drugs, and perhaps other problem behaviors. The study appears in the May issue of the medical journal Pediatrics.

Underage drinking is a major national problem, with estimates suggesting that by the 8th grade one-fourth of all adolescents have consumed alcohol to the point of intoxication. In addition, adolescent drinking plays a key role in the four leading causes of death among teens–car accidents, accidental injuries, homicides and suicides.

The RAND findings are from a study that followed about 3,400 youths who were recruited in 1985 from 30 socially and economically diverse schools in California and Oregon when they were enrolled in 7th grade. Participants were surveyed during the 7th grade, 12th grade and at age 23 about their current use of alcohol, tobacco and other drugs, and about a number of behavioral issues.

At the outset of the study, about three-quarters of the 7th graders had used alcohol. Researchers labeled 46 percent as “experimenters” (had consumed alcohol, but fewer than three times in the past year and not within the past month) and 31 percent as “drinkers” (three or more alcoholic drinks within the past year or any drinking in the past month). Nondrinkers (those who had never drunk alcohol) accounted for 23 percent of the 7th graders.

Students who used alcohol by the 7th grade were far more likely than non-drinkers to report using other substances, stealing and having school problems. For example, the drinkers were 19 times more likely to be weekly smokers or hard drug users, and 4.5 times more likely to have stolen items in the past year when compared with non-drinkers. Experimenters reported fewer problems, but were still 2.5 times more likely to have used hard drugs and twice as likely to have stolen when compared with non-drinkers.

The differences remained at the 12th grade, although they were less pronounced. Compared with non-drinkers, drinkers were 5 times more likely to be weekly marijuana users, 3 times more likely to use hard drugs or experience several drug-related problems in the past year, twice as likely to have been suspended or dropped out of school, and about twice as likely to engage in violent or criminal behavior in the past year.

Experimenters were about twice as likely to be weekly marijuana users, use hard drugs, and have multiple drug problems, 1.2 to 1.7 times more likely to engage in violent or criminal behavior, and 1.5 times more likely to commit a felony or be suspended from school.

“Early drinking clearly is associated with other problems that develop in school and in many other settings,” said Joan S. Tucker, a RAND psychologist and another author of the report. “Differences between drinkers and nondrinkers show up early and persist over time.”

At age 23, those identified in 7th grade as drinkers still showed significantly more behavior problems than those who had been nondrinkers. The drinkers were 2 to 3 times more likely to use hard drugs, experience multiple drug problems, or have undergone alcohol or drug treatment, 3 times more likely to have been arrested for drunk driving, twice as likely to engage in violent or criminal behavior in the past year, and nearly 1.5 times more likely to report missing work for no reason.

The differences were smaller for the group identified as experimenters in 7th grade. Compared with nondrinkers, experimenters were twice as likely to have multiple drug problems, 1.6 times as likely to engage in criminal behavior, use hard drugs, or have undergone alcohol or drug treatment, and nearly twice as likely to have been arrested for drunk driving.

“These results suggest that drinking in early adolescence may be among the most important risk factors for a wide variety of behavior problems during the transition to young adulthood,” Tucker said. “Preventing drinking initiation before Grade 7 may help reduce these later problems.”

Researchers say it is not clear what mechanisms link early alcohol use to behavior problems later in life. It may be that alcohol disrupts the development of adequate social and academic skills that are needed to succeed later in life. Or early alcohol use may signal that an individual is predisposed to use drugs and develop other behavioral problems. The research was supported by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. The project also included RAND researcher David J. Klein.

RAND Health is the nation’s largest independent health policy research organization, with a broad research portfolio that focuses on medical quality, health care costs and delivery of health care, among other topics.