Childhood Trauma and Illicit Drug Use in Adolescence: A Population-Based National Comorbidity Survey Replication–Adolescent Supplement Study

Hannah Carliner, Katherine M. Keyes, Katie A. McLaughlin, Jacquelyn L. Meyers, Erin C. Dunn, Silvia S. Martins

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

42 Scopus citations


Objective Although potentially traumatic events (PTEs) are established risk factors for substance use disorders among adults, little is known about associations with drug use during adolescence, an important developmental stage for drug use prevention. We examined whether childhood PTEs were associated with illicit drug use among a representative sample of US adolescents. Method Data were drawn from the National Comorbidity Survey Replication–Adolescent Supplement (NCS-A), which included adolescents aged 13 to 18 years (N = 9,956). Weighted logistic regression models estimated risk ratios for lifetime use of marijuana, cocaine, nonmedical prescription drugs, other drugs, and multiple drugs. Results Exposure to any PTE before age 11 years was reported by 36% of the sample and was associated with higher risk for use of marijuana (risk ratio [RR] = 1.50), cocaine (RR = 2.78), prescription drugs (RR = 1.80), other drugs (RR = 1.90), and multiple drugs (RR = 1.74). A positive monotonic relationship was observed between number of PTEs and marijuana, other drug, and multiple drug use. Interpersonal violence was associated with all drug use outcomes. Accidents and unspecified events were associated with higher risk for marijuana, cocaine, and prescription drug use. Conclusion Potentially traumatic events in childhood are associated with risk for illicit drug use among US adolescents. These findings add to the literature by illustrating a potentially modifiable health behavior that may be a target for intervention. The results also highlight that adolescents with a trauma history are a high-risk group for illicit drug use and may benefit from trauma-focused prevention efforts that specifically address traumatic memories and coping strategies for dealing with stressful life events.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)701-708
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 1 2016


  • adolescents
  • childhood trauma
  • illicit drugs
  • maltreatment
  • substance use

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


Dive into the research topics of 'Childhood Trauma and Illicit Drug Use in Adolescence: A Population-Based National Comorbidity Survey Replication–Adolescent Supplement Study'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this