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Research Summary

Drug Use in Young Adulthood May Lead to a Decline in Health Later


Self-rated general health is highly correlated with important health outcomes including mortality.  Researchers investigated the association between self-reported drug use at baseline and self-rated general health 15 years later among 3124 subjects. At baseline, subjects were from 4 U.S. cities, aged 20–32 years, and reported “good” or “excellent” health.


  • At baseline, 812 subjects had never used illicit drugs, 1554 had used drugs in the past but not currently, 503 used marijuana only, and 255 used hard drugs (cocaine, amphetamines, opiates).
  • Hard drug use at baseline was significantly associated with health decline (report of “fair” or “poor” health) at follow-up (odds ratio [OR] in adjusted analyses, 1.8 versus no hard drug use).
  • Cigarette smoking independently predicted health decline (OR, 1.7) and weakened the apparent effect of hard drug use at baseline (OR, 1.2 and no longer statistically significant).
  • Neither marijuana use at baseline nor past drug use was significantly associated with health decline at follow-up.


This cohort study demonstrates an association between drug use in young adulthood and a decline in self-reported health 15 years later. The investigators aptly noted that another addictive behavior, cigarette smoking, independently predicted health decline and may overshadow the effects of intermittent drug use. The study is limited by a lack of information on ongoing drug use behaviors over follow-up. David A. Fiellin, MD


Kertesz SG, Pletcher MJ, Safford M, et al. Illicit drug use in young adults and subsequent decline in general health: the Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults (CARDIA) Study. Drug Alcohol Depend. 2007;88(2-3):224–233.