Co-occurrence of Abuse of Different Drugs in Men: The Role of Drug-Specific and Shared Vulnerabilities

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Abstract

Background

Previous research has demonstrated genetic and environmental influences on abuse of individual substances, but there is less known about how these factors may influence the co-occurrence of abuse of different illicit drugs.

Methods

We studied 3372 male twin pairs from the Vietnam Era Twin Registry. They were interviewed using the Diagnostic Interview Schedule, Version III, Revised to investigate the extent to which the abuse of different categories of drugs occurs together within an individual, as well as the possibility that genetic and environmental factors are responsible for observed co-occurrence. Co-occurrence was quantified using odds ratios and conditional probabilities. Multivariate biometrical modeling analyses were used to assess genetic and environmental influences on co-occurrence.

Results

Abusing any category of drug was associated with a marked increase in the probability of abusing every other category of drugs. We found evidence for a shared or common vulnerability factor that underlies the abuse of marijuana, sedatives, stimulants, heroin or opiates, and psychedelics. This shared vulnerability is influenced by genetic, family environmental, and nonfamily environmental factors, but not every drug is influenced to the same extent by the shared vulnerability factor. Marijuana, more than other drugs, was influenced by family environmental factors. Each category of drug, except psychedelics, had genetic influences unique to itself (ie, not shared with other drug categories). Heroin had larger genetic influences unique to itself than did any other drug.

Conclusion

There are genetically and environmentally determined characteristics that comprise a shared or common vulnerability to abuse a range of illicit drugs.

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