Protocol - Substances - Age of First Use

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Measurement to ascertain the respondent’s age of initiation of first use of substances.

Specific Instructions

The Working Group acknowledges that the following question may gather sensitive information relating to the use of substances or illegal conduct. If the information is released it might be damaging to an individual’s employability, lead to social stigmatization, or result in other consequences.

For information on obtaining a Certificate of Confidentiality, which helps researchers protect the privacy of human research participants, please go to the National Human Genome Research Institute’s Institutional Review Board website.

If respondents answered "Yes" to any of the drug categories asked in the Substances - Lifetime Use measure, they are then asked this question. Investigators should refer back to the substance(s) indicated in the Substances - Lifetime Use measure when asking the below question. The drug categories are provided below:

  1. Sedatives or tranquilizers
  2. Painkillers
  3. Marijuana
  4. Cocaine or crack
  5. Stimulants
  6. Club drugs
  7. Hallucinogens
  8. Inhalants or solvents
  9. Heroin
  10. OTHER

Respondents can refer to the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions-III (NESARC-III) flashcard that provides examples of each.



1 Sedatives or tranquilizers, for example…barbs, downers, Ambien, Lunesta, phenobarbital, pentobarbital, Halcion, Tuinal, Nembutal, Seconal, Librium, Valium, Xanax, benzodiazepines, tranks, Ativan

2 Painkillers, for example…methadone, codeine, Demerol, Vicodin, OxyContin, opium, oxy, Percocet, Dilaudid, Percodan, morphine

3 Marijuana, including THC, for example…weed, pot, dope, hashish, Mary Jane, joint, blunt

4 Cocaine or crack, for example…blow, rock, snow

5 Stimulants, for example…Adderall, Concerta, Cylert, Provigil, Ritalin or Dexedrine, speed, amphetamine, methamphetamine, uppers, bennies, pep pills, crystal, crank

6 Club drugs, for example…MDMA, ecstasy, GHB, Rohypnol, ketamine, Special K, XTC, roofies

7 Hallucinogens, for example…LSD, acid, PCP, mescaline, peyote, psilocybin, mushrooms, angel dust, cactus

8 Inhalants or solvents, for example…nitrous oxide, lighter fluid, gasoline, cleaning fluid, glue, poppers, whippets

9 Heroin, for example…smack, black tar, poppy

10 Any OTHER medicines



  1. How old were you the first time you used…?

AGE: ________ [RANGE: 1-110]

[ ] DK/REF

Personnel and Training Required

Interviewer must be trained and found competent to conduct personal interviews with individuals from the general population. The interviewer should be trained to prompt respondents further if a "don’t know" response is provided.

Equipment Needs

While the source instrument was developed for administration by computer, the PhenX Expert Review Panel acknowledges that these questions can be administered in a noncomputerized format.

Requirement CategoryRequired
Major equipment No
Specialized training No
Specialized requirements for biospecimen collection No
Average time of greater than 15 minutes in an unaffected individual No
Mode of Administration

Interviewer-administered questionnaire




18 years of age or older

Selection Rationale

The protocol from the 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) was chosen because it is a large, nationally representative study. The measures from this survey have been validated and psychometrically tested.


English, Other languages available at source

caDSR Form PhenX PX031202 - Substances Age Of First Use 6910293 caDSR Form
Derived Variables


Process and Review

The Expert Review Panel #3 (ERP 3) reviewed the measures in Alcohol, Tobacco and Other Substances, and Substance Abuse and Addiction domains.

Guidance from ERP 3 includes:

• Updated protocol

• New Data Dictionary

Back-compatible: Not back-compatible (vastly different than previous protocol which would require a new data dictionary) and not recommended for use (discredited or no longer considered broadly validated)

Previous version in Toolkit archive (link)

Protocol Name from Source

National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), 2015


Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2015, February). National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), 2015. Rockville, MD: Author. CAI Specifications for Programming, English Version.

General References


Protocol ID


Export Variables
Variable Name Variable IDVariable DescriptiondbGaP Mapping
PX031202010100 How old were you the first time you used...? Variable Mapping
PX031202010200 How old were you the first time you used...? N/A
Alcohol, Tobacco and Other Substances
Measure Name

Substances - Age of First Use

Release Date

November 21, 2016


Question asking the respondent how old he or she was when he or she first use the substance.


This measure assesses when the participant’s substance use began.


Drugs, substance use, illicit substances, cannabis, marijuana, THC, LSD, acid, angel dust, phencyclidine, PCP, peyote, mescaline, psilocybin, ecstasy, MDMA, sedative, tranquilizer, pain relievers, stimulant, prescription drugs, cocaine, crack cocaine, hallucinogen, inhalant, solvent, heroin, methamphetamine, substance abuse, National Survey on Drug Use and Health, NSDUH, gerontology, aging, geriatrics

Measure Protocols
Protocol ID Protocol Name
31202 Substances - Age of First Use

There are no publications listed for this protocol.