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The drug-subculture theory presented by Johnson (1973) has received little commentary or criticism in the professional literature. Most of the empirical relationships presented there have been uncovered in other studies, but testing of the theoretical aspects has been widely neglected. Nevertheless, some limitations have been informally commented upon and await further research in the near future.

This perspective is difficult to prove since the critical independent variables, the conduct norms, cannot be measured directly. That is, expectations of behavior in a particular situation were not and cannot be measured directly, although Orcutt (1978), Akers et al. (1979), and Short and Strodtbeck (1965) have made attempts to measure such normative orientations. Johnson (1973) only makes inferences about the conduct norms from the behavior (cannabis, hallucinogen, heroin, or other drug use) which is to be explained. This is a critical problem that is unlikely to be rectified in the future. Another weakness is the current lack of specification about why, how, and where subcultures emerge and change through time. There is a distinct need for ethnographic studies of drug-using peer groups to observe, question, and analyze the conscious awareness of expected behavior and unconscious motivations--hypothesized to be due to the conduct norms--directing individual and group patterns of drug use. Survey research can document the effects, but a more careful elaboration of the process is needed.

The evidence presented in Johnson (1973) is based upon a crosssectional survey in which longitudinal data are needed to test many of the critical processes hypothesized. This shortcoming was noted in the book; some recent longitudinal studies have presented findings supporting some hypothesized processes (Single et al. 1974; Single and Kandel 1978; Kandel 1978b; Johnston et al. 1978; Jessor and Jessor 1977), but not others (Ginsberg and Greenley 1978).

Jessor (1979) indicates discomfort with the drug-subculture perspective because (a) large proportions of the youth populations (frequently more than a majority) now use marijuana, making it difficult to distinguish clear subcultural boundaries, and (b) the role of peers in initiating nonusers to marijuana use and drug-related role behaviors appears no different from the role of peers in influencing other behavioral domains--values, sexual behavior, styles of dress--in which peer influence is considerable. Jessor's comments appear to equate the concept of subculture with a subsociety (see Fine and Kleinman 1979), while the subculture perspective outlined here does not do so. In addition, the mechanism (peer influence) by which persons are recruited for participation in any of the various nonconventional subcultures (see above) may be similar, but the conduct norms, values, rituals, argot, and "central activities around which the group" is organized (Cloward and Ohlin 1960) may reflect differentially structured and conceptually distinct subcultures.

A major problem with applying subculture theory to drug use is dissatisfaction with the diffuse and widespread meanings the term "subculture" has acquired. The absence of an accepted definition for this concept, a feature shared with many other sociological concepts and theories, however, should not detract from the potential of drugsubculture theory. Such a theory can alert the researcher and reader to critical concepts and distinctions, measurable behavior patterns, potentially fruitful hypotheses or relationships between variables, and lead them to important insights about how and why drug users behave the way they do.

Developmental Stages in
Adolescent Drug Involvement

Denise B. Kandel, Ph.D.


A variety of human characteristics pertaining to cognitive, psychological, and physiological functions have been shown to follow well-defined developmental sequences. Some of the best known of the developmental stage theories include Piaget's (1954) hierarchical theory of cognitive structures and Kohlberg's (1973) related theory of moral behavior. The appearance of different stages has been postulated to result either from biological maturation that is under genetic control or from the interaction of the biological organism with the environment--physical, social, or cultural.

I would like to propose that culturally determined developmental stages can be observed with respect to drug behavior. However, I advance this notion not as a formal, grand theory of drug use, but rather as a framework around which to develop specific theories of initiation, progression, and regression in drug behavior.

Substances that are subject to abuse include not only the illegal drugs, but those such as alcohol and tobacco that are commonly used in society for recreational purposes, as well as the medically prescribed psychoactive drugs, such as stimulants and minor tranquilizers. Until fairly recently, considerations of patterns of sequential or multiple drug use were restricted to a consideration of the illegal drugs. Retrospective studies of the drug histories of heroin addicts, in which marijuana use was found to characterize every respondent, gave rise to the controversial "stepping stone" theory of drug addiction in which use of marijuana was assumed inevitably to lead to the use of hard drugs, especially heroin. The theory is problematic (Goode 1972, 1974), and with rare exceptions (see O'Donnell and Clayton 1978), few investigators today accept it.

However, studies of drug-use patterns in different cohorts of adolescents suggest that there are at this time in the United States welldefined stages and sequences in patterns of drug involvement and that the so-called legal drugs, such as alcohol and tobacco, must be accepted

as an integral and crucial part of the sequence. It is most important to keep in mind that position on a particular point in the sequence does not indicate that the individual will necessarily progress to other drugs higher up in the sequence. Rather, we suggest that the use of a drug lower in a sequence is a necessary but not a sufficient condition for progression to a higher stage indicating involvement with more serious drugs.

This developmental notion of stages in drug use is empirically derived from extensive analyses of cross sectional and longitudinal data on patterns of drug use in adolescence. At least four distinct developmental stages in adolescent involvement in legal and illegal drugs can be identified: (1) beer or wine, (2) cigarettes or hard liquor, (3) marijuana, and (4) other illicit drugs. The supporting evidence for this model is twofold: (a) results of analyses of hierarchical and sequential patterns of drug use, and (b) results of longitudinal analyses where different variables identify adolescents at risk who progress from one stage to the next.


The first suggestion of stages in drug use came from scalogram analyses carried out on a cross section of New York State adolescents (N=8,206) in public secondary schools (Single et al. 1974). Guttman scale analysis is especially well suited for analyzing the ordering of patterns of drug use because of its properties of unidimensionality and cumulation. Since the scale items all measure the same underlying dimension, the scale ranking of respondents indicates not only how many but which drugs they have used. Therefore, knowing an individual's score on a given scale, one can estimate which substances have been used, though not the order in which they have been used. The results indicated that adolescent drug use behavior fit a valid Guttman scale. The patterns of lifetime use of drugs could be arranged according to a well-defined cumulative and one-dimensional hierarchical order with seven steps. The fit of the data with the Guttman scale model implied that youths at any one step have used the drug at that particular level as well as all drugs ranked lower, but they have not used any of the drugs ranked higher. Since these earlier findings were based on data gathered at one time, no time order among the usage patterns could be established. Direct evidence was provided by Guttman scale analyses of drug use responses over time (Kandel 1975; Kandel and Faust 1975). Analyses were replicated on two different cohorts: (a) a representative panel sample of high school students in New York State followed over one school year at a five- to six-month interval (N=5,468); and (b) a panel sample of seniors who were contacted five to nine months following graduation from high school (N=985). At least four distinct developmental stages in adolescent involvement in legal and illegal drugs were identified. These were noted above: (1) beer or wine, (2) cigarettes or hard liquor, (3) marijuana, and (4) other illicit drugs. (See figure 1.) The legal drugs are necessary intermediates between nonuse and marijuana. For example, whereas 27 percent of the high school students who had smoked and had drunk hard liquor progressed to marijuana within the five-month followup period, only two percent of those who had not used any legal substance did so. Marijuana, in turn, was a crucial step on the way to other

FIGURE 1.-Major stages of adolescent Involvement in drug use

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Major changes of adolescent involvement in drug use. Probabilities of moving from one stage to another based on changes between Fall 1971 and Spring 1972 in a cohort of New York State high school students, 14 to 18 years old. Youths who started using more than one drug within the followup interval were distributed in a sequential order which reproduced the proportions of known exclusive starters of each drug.

Reprinted with permission from D. Kandel, 'Stages in Adolescent involvement in Drug Use,' Science 190(1975):912-914.
Copyright © 1975 by the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

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illicit drugs. While 26 percent of marijuana users progressed to LSD, amphetamines, or heroin, only one percent of nonusers of any drug and four percent of legal users did so. This sequence was found in each of the four years in high school and in the year following graduation. The same steps were followed in regression as in progression in patterns of use within the followup interval.

Except for our own research, no other studies that specifically test the notion of stages that we have advanced have yet appeared in the literature. Related analyses include scalogram analyses and analyses of self-reported order of first usage. We carried out additional scalogram analyses on sets of data besides the New York State sample to test further the applicability of the stage model to other samples of youths. We have found the same sequential pattern among males and females and among adolescents of different ages. Variations in scalability are observed in black as compared to white adolescents (Single et al. 1974; Jessop et al. 1976; Jessop et al. 1977), although the same overall model fits the data in both racial groups.

Prior to our studies, only two scalogram analyses had been reported in the literature, both inadequate because of methodological or conceptual limitations. Sinnitt et al. (1972) concluded that drug experiences of college students with alcohol and illicit substances were unidimensional and cumulative. However, the sample of 33 cases was very small and selected. Loiselle and Whitehead (1971), on the other hand, concluded that drug use patterns did not fulfill the criteria for unidimensionality implied by Guttman scaling. However, questionable decisions in the study must be noted, namely the restriction of the analysis to users of illicit drugs. Out of a sample of 1,606 high school students, the authors focused on 257 users of any of five drugs (marijuana, stimulants, tranquilizers, glue, and barbiturates) in one analysis (or 16 percent of the sample), and on 105 marijuana smokers (or seven percent) in another. The skewed marginal distribution of the illicit drug use items is not sufficient methodological justification for restricting the analyses to users, since techniques are available to correct for such skewness. Furthermore, the exclusion of nonusers of illicit drugs eliminated a crucial part of the sample required to consider patterns of nonuse and use of various drugs. Indeed, tobacco and alcohol were excluded, although these substances are crucial to a consideration of processes of drug use.

By relying on a different criterion for defining usage order, namely self-reported order of first use, Whitehead and Cabral (1975-76) subsequently reached a conclusion different from that based on the earlier Guttman scaling. Mean order of first use of 10 drugs, including tobacco and alcohol, in a sample of 902 adolescent users was tobacco, alcohol, marijuana, and other illicit drugs, in that sequence. A similar order has been reported by Goldstein and his collaborators (Goldstein et al. 1975) among college students from an analysis of self-reported time of initial use of each of eight drugs. A matrix of pairwise comparisons among the drugs was created according to the order of first use for each drug in a pair. Beer and liquor appeared to precede tobacco, followed by marijuana and by other illicit drugs.

'It must be kept in mind that these probabilities of change typify the particular cohorts that were studied and would probably be somewhat different in different samples contacted at a different period.

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