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Association of illicit drug use in adolescence with socioeconomic and criminal justice outcomes in adulthood: prospective findings from a UK national birth cohort
  1. James White1,
  2. Steven Bell2,
  3. G David Batty3
  1. 1Centre for Trials Research, Cardiff University, Cardiff, UK
  2. 2Cardiovascular Epidemiology Unit, Department of Public Health and Primary Care, The National Institute for Health Research Blood and Transplant Unit in Donor Health and Genomics, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK
  3. 3Epidemiology and Public Health, University College London, London, UK
  1. Correspondence to Dr James White, Centre for Trials Research, Cardiff University, Cardiff CF14 4YS, UK; whitej11{at}


Background Illicit drug use in adolescence has been linked to drug use and poor mental health in adult life, but few studies have examined the relation between adult economic and criminal justice outcomes.

Methods We analysed data from 14 082 participants (6999 women) in the 1970 British Birth Cohort Study. Illicit drug use over study members’ lifetime and in the past year were self-reported at 16 years of age. Thirteen outcomes were self-reported at 30 years of age, including illicit drug use, smoking, problems with alcohol, mental and physical health, experience of socioeconomic disadvantage and experiences with the criminal justice system.

Results At 16 years of age, 20.3% of the participants had ever tried an illicit drug and 7.2% had used in the past year. After adjustment for childhood socioeconomic status and mental health problems, and following correction for multiple testing, there was a dose–response association between illicit drug use at 16 years with illicit drug use in adult life in the past year (OR; 95% CI – 1.83, 1.51 to 3.12), experiencing homelessness (1.74, 1.16 to 2.62), being arrested (1.57, 1.29 to 1.92) and cautioned (1.97, 1.50 to 2.57) by the police, and being found guilty at court (1.73, 1.34 to 2.23).

Conclusions Adolescent drug use was associated with an array of social and criminal outcomes in later life.

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  • Contributors JW and GDB had the idea and designed the analyses. JW acquired the data and undertook the analyses. SB contributed to refining the analyses and drafted the figure. All authors drafted the manuscript and approved its publication.

  • Funding JW is funded by The Centre for the Development and Evaluation of Complex Interventions for Public Health Improvement (DECIPHer), a UKCRC Public Health Research Centre of Excellence. Joint funding (MR/KO232331/1) from the British Heart Foundation, Cancer Research UK, Economic and Social Research Council, Medical Research Council, the Welsh Government and the Wellcome Trust, under the auspices of the UK Clinical Research Collaboration, and is gratefully acknowledged. GDB is supported by the UK Medical Research Council (MR/P023444/1) and the US National Institute on Aging (1R56AG052519-01; 1R01AG052519-01A1). SB is supported by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Blood and Transplant Research Unit in Donor Health and Genomics (NIHR BTRU-2014-10024), UK Medical Research Council (MR/L003120/1), British Heart Foundation (SP/09/002; RG/13/13/30194; RG/18/13/3394/6) and the NIHR Cambridge Biomedical Research Centre at the Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient consent for publication Not required.

  • Ethics approval Plewis I, Calderwood L, Hawkes D, Nathan G. National Child Development Study and 1970 British Cohort Study technical report: Changes in the NCDS and BCS70 populations and samples over time. London: Institute of Education. 2004.

  • Data sharing statement All data are openly available from the UK Data Archive (

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

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