Sex-specific risk profiles for substance use among college students

Spit for Science Working Group

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Introduction: Growing evidence indicates sex and gender differences exist in substance use. Framed by a lifecourse perspective, we explored prospectively by sex the effects of distal and proximal factors on the initiation of drug use in college. Methods: College students without prior drug use (n = 5,120 females; n = 2,951 males) were followed longitudinally across 4 years. Analyses were estimated as a multigroup survival analysis separately by sex within a latent variable SEM framework with illicit drug use (6 or more times in past year) as the latent factor. Results: More males initiated drug use (8.5%) than females (6.4%, χ2 (1) = 10.351, p =.001), but less so for Black males (AOR 0.33, 95% CI [0.18, 0.60]) and females (0.35 [0.23, 0.54]). Students initiating drug use more likely included students smoking cigarettes at baseline (males 1.40 [1.23, 1.59]; females 1.43 [1.24, 1.64]), using alcohol (males 1.04 [1.02, 1.06]; females 1.04 [1.02, 1.06]), or having cannabis using peers (males 1.79 [1.52, 2.11]; females 1.70 [1.49, 1.93]). Impulsivity domain associations differed by sex [negative urgency: females (1.23 [1.02, 1.49) and sensation seeking: males (1.33 [1.01, 1.75])]. History of unwanted/uncomfortable sexual experience predicted drug use for males (1.60 [1.09, 2.35]) and females (1.95 [1.45, 2.62]) but physical assault only for females (1.45 [1.08, 1.94]). Mood symptoms predicted drug use only for males [depression (0.73 [0.56, 0.95]); anxiety (1.40 [1.04, 1.89])]. Conclusions: Risk factors for initiating drug use during college differ by sex. As substance use during early age predisposes one for addiction, sex- and gender-informed interventions for young adults are needed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere01959
JournalBrain and Behavior
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2021


  • addiction
  • gender
  • sex
  • students
  • substance use disorder
  • young adults

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Behavioral Neuroscience


Dive into the research topics of 'Sex-specific risk profiles for substance use among college students'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this