What Time Of Year Are People Most Likely To Try Drugs For The First Time?

Many people try drugs for the first time in summer a season of long days, warm weather, and music festivals like Coachella (pictured). Andrew Ruiz/Unsplash

What time of year are people most likely to embark on their first druggy experience? You might guess December, aka Party Season. Or fall, when a fresh batch of teenagers leaves home for the first time to start college.

But you'd be wrong because the correct answer – according to a study recently published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine – is summer. A period of long days, balmy weather, festivals, and perhaps most importantly, plenty of idle time. 

Researchers at the New York University (NYU) School of Medicine investigated when, seasonally-speaking, American teens and adults "initiated" drug use from data collected in the National Survey on Drug Use and Health between 2011 and 2017. Just under 400,000 people aged 12 years and older completed a computer-assisted interview requiring them to jot down the month and year they took cocaine, LSD, and MDMA (or ecstasy or Molly), and cannabis for the first time.

It is estimated that some 3 million people in the US tried cannabis for the first time in 2017, while 1 million tried cocaine, 800,000 tried LSD, and 800,000 tried MDMA. Of those 400,000 or so surveyed, 30 percent of cannabis initiates, 28 percent of cocaine initiates, 34 percent of LSD initiates, and 30 percent of MDMA initiates first used in summer (June to August). 

The results were fairly consistent among all demographic characteristics with a few exceptions. In 2011 and 2012, just a quarter of people (24.9-26.9 percent) trying LSD for the first time did so in summer compared to between 31.4 and 43 percent in later years. And black respondents were less likely (18.2 percent) to try cocaine for the first time in summer than those of other races and ethnicities (26.8-39.3 percent). 

The researchers were careful to point out that the differences between summer and other months were "modest", but pin the slight trend – at least, in part – to increased levels of leisure time during the summer as well as occasions like festivals where recreational drug use is common. Still, they say, more research is needed to explore the situations most likely to encourage first-time drug use and determine whether it is planned or unplanned. 

Joseph J. Palamar, an associate professor in the Department of Population Health at NYU School of Medicine, recommends anyone considering using educates themselves on the drugs and their side effects. He advises taking in the company of trusted friends, drinking enough fluids to avoid dehydration, and getting enough rest to avoid exhaustion – or anything more serious.

"First-time users may be unfamiliar with the effects of various drugs, so it is important to first understand when people are most likely to start these behaviors," Palamar said in a statement.

"Parents and educators who are concerned about their kids need to educate them year-round about potential risks associated with drug use, but special emphasis appears to be needed before or during summer months when rates of initiation increase."

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