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Crack and the Developmental Progression of Substance Abuse

NCJ Number
Date Published
November 1992
20 pages

Data collected from interviews with 1,003 serious drug abusers from New York City were used to identify the sequence of drugs used prior to onset of crack abuse and to examine variations in the developmental pathways of drug abuse over time.


The researchers hypothesized that the prevailing popularity of different drugs during specific time periods would affect both substance use by existing drug users and the developmental pathways used by youth to move from non- substance abuse to possibly serious substance abuse. Three predominant pathways to crack abuse were identified: a direct pathway from alcohol and marijuana to crack without intermediate use of cocaine powder or intravenous drugs, a pathway involving cocaine snorting, and a pathway involving intravenous drug use. The findings showed that much of the variation in individual pathways to crack use depended upon the year of birth and, consequently, the drug eras each drug abuser lived through. Those subjects who were born before 1957 and experienced the heroin injection era tended to take the third pathway, while the cohort born after 1958 was more likely to have snorted cocaine before moving on to crack. The third cohort, born between 1968 and 1972, had mostly used marijuana and alcohol prior to crack use. 3 tables, 1 figure, and 32 references

Date Published: November 1, 1992