Discussion Paper no. 97-2


Objective: Employing probability samples from the Ontario Health Survey Supplement (Ontario Ministry of Health, 1990/91) and a community of Native Ontario reserve residents (Embree, 1993), this study compared and contrasted Natives' and Non-natives' determinants of drug and alcohol use onset. Method: Proportional Hazards techniques identified factors associated with the risk and timing of onset of substance use (alcohol and illicit drugs) for both cultural groups, and special attention was paid to the role of family background characteristics as precursors to early alcohol and drug-use onset. Results: The multivariate results reveal that, for both Natives and Non-natives alike, and considering both drinking and drug use onset together, age cohort predominates as a risk factor, with youngest groups at greatest risk, and especially in the case of drug use other than alcohol. Males also exhibit consistently higher risks of both alcohol and other substance use, and this is true to a greater extent for Non-natives. For the model of drug use timing, age of alcohol use onset is the second best predictor for Natives, although its effect is still apparent, albeit weaker, in the case of Non-natives. The results concerning age at first regular drinking lend further support to previous findings that alcohol use is a powerful predisposing factor to the use of illicit substances. However, the evident cultural disparity in the predictive power of this measure also suggests that Natives may lag behind the general population with respect to recently observed shifts in the pattern of substance use progression (i.e., away from alcohol use as a necessary precondition to illicit use of other drugs). As for family characteristics, a number of factors emerge as determinants of risk but appear to depend, at least in part, on the cultural group and the substance under consideration: namely, parental substance abuse, paternal history of depression, quality of parental relations, parental occupational background, and sexual abuse during childhood. Conclusions: Overall, the findings point to the salience of family background in affecting early onset drinking and drug use, behaviors well-recognized to have potentially adverse mental and physical health consequences, as well as negative social outcomes.