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The gene–environmental architecture of the development of adolescent substance use

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  19 February 2018

Frank Vitaro*
School of Psycho-Education, University of Montreal, Montreal, Canada
Daniel J. Dickson
Department of Psychology, Florida Atlantic University, Boca Raton, USA
Mara Brendgen
Department of Psychology, University of Quebec at Montreal, Montreal, Canada
Brett Laursen
Department of Psychology, Florida Atlantic University, Boca Raton, USA
Ginette Dionne
School of Psychology, Laval University, Quebec City, Canada
Michel Boivin
School of Psychology, Laval University, Quebec City, Canada
Author for correspondence: Frank Vitaro, E-mail:



Using a longitudinal twin design and a latent growth curve/autoregressive approach, this study examined the genetic–environmental architecture of substance use across adolescence.


Self-reports of substance use (i.e. alcohol, marijuana) were collected at ages 13, 14, 15, and 17 years from 476 twin pairs (475 boys, 477 girls) living in the Province of Quebec, Canada. Substance use increased linearly across the adolescent years.


ACE modeling revealed that genetic, as well as shared and non-shared environmental factors explained the overall level of substance use and that these same factors also partly accounted for growth in substance use from age 13 to 17. Additional genetic factors predicted the growth in substance use. Finally, autoregressive effects revealed age-specific non-shared environmental influences and, to a lesser degree, age-specific genetic influences, which together accounted for the stability of substance use across adolescence.


The results support and expand the notion that genetic and environmental influences on substance use during adolescence are both developmentally stable and developmentally dynamic.

Original Articles
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2018 

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None of the authors declares any conflict of interest. Frank Vitaro wrote the first draft of this manuscript. No honorarium, grant, or other form of payment was given to anyone to produce the manuscript.


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