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January 8, 2004 - 12:00am to January 9, 2004 - 12:00am
Bethesda Hyatt Regency Hotel, Bethesda, Maryland


NIDA Organizer(s): Susan E. Martin, Ph.D. under Prevention Research Branch Division of Epidemiology, Services and Prevention Research

Purpose & Intent

Most preventive interventions have targeted elementary and middle school youth prior to initiation of drug use or teenagers who recently initiated use in order to prevent escalation although there is ample evidence that rates of drug use and abuse continue to climb among youth in transition to adulthood. The lack of focus on young people over 18 has left a large gap in our understanding of patterns of initiation, escalation, and cessation of drug use among young adults and ways to address them. This meeting was designed to convene a working group of experts to review findings and identify key questions for research on the prevention of drug use/abuse among young adults, with the goal of generating an agenda to guide development of future research. 

Meeting Outcome

A panel of 15 researchers and NIDA program staff convened to discuss current issues in drug-related problems among "emerging adults" (i.e., young people between the ages of 18 and 25), and recommend future research directions. The meeting was divided into several segments. In each segment there were research presentations by several speakers followed by discussion led by two other meeting participants, then general discussion. The final session involved a general discussion and synthesis of recommendations.

The first session, "Substance Abuse in the Transition to Adulthood," included six presentations laying out the scope of the problem. Jeffrey Arnett (University of Maryland) provided an overview of the transition to adulthood in a life course perspective and the new concept of "emerging adulthood." He was followed by presentations of findings from three longitudinal studies of drug use trajectories presented by John Schulenberg (University of Michigan), Helene R. White (Rutgers), and Phyllis Ellickson (Rand). Mark Goldman, former co-chair of NIAAA's Task Force on College Binge Drinking (currently at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism on leave from University of South Florida), reviewed that Task Force's findings and their implications for NIDA research on college youth. Finally, Jean Schensul (Institute for Community Research), addressed issues in studying and intervening with hard-to-reach populations of young adults, such as the unemployed.

The second session involved three presentations focused on college and university students and environments. Mary Larimer (University of Washington), reviewed individual-oriented intervention programs on college campuses. Jason Kilmer (Evergreen State College) addressed practical issues and challenges in implementing efficacious drug prevention interventions on college campuses. Robert Saltz (Prevention Research Center, Berkeley) addressed environmental approaches to substance abuse problems and whether they might be effective in reducing illicit drug use.

The third session focused on emerging adults in non-college environments. Joel Bennett, (Organizational Wellness & Learning Systems), spoke about adapting SAMHSA Workplace Model Programs specifically for young adults. Steven Sussman, (University of Southern California), reported on efforts to prevent progression in drug abuse with indicated youth from an alternative high school. Mary Jane Rotheram-Borus (UCLA), addressed sexual risk-taking, HIV and drug use among high-risk youth.

The fourth set of presentations focused on other issues and influences on drug abuse among emerging adults. Charles Martinez (Oregon Social Learning Center,) examined race/ethnic-specific approaches; Brenda Miller (Prevention Research Center, Berkeley), explored ecstasy and other drug use among participants at electronic music events, and Kenneth Leonard (Research Institute on Addictions, Buffalo) reviewed his findings on the impact of marriage on drug use and the effect that men and women have on their spouse's use.

From the synthesis discussion the following research-related issues were identified:

  • The importance of identity issues and their relation to substance use;
  • The need to distinguish among the heterogeneous populations that comprise emerging adults when developing interventions;
  • Examination of the changing role of parents, peers and romantic partners in understanding drug use in this group;
  • The need for more longitudinal research to long emerging adulthood with prior development;
  • Methodological concerns including seeking more effective ways to link qualitative and quantitative studies; the importance of social context and addressing environmental influences;

Studies of naturally occurring shifts or factors that result in decreases in drug use

Expected Follow up

A group of the participants are currently working on an application in response to the Roadmap Initiative to set up a virtual network of researchers addressing developmental problems during emerging adulthood as a result of the meeting. Others have recently submitted applications to the RFA DA-04-013, Prevention Research for the Transition to Adulthood.


A special issue of the Journal of Drug Issues is planned.