Protocol - Substances - Age of First Use

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Protocol Name from Source:

2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH)


Publicly available


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


  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
Average time of greater than 15 minutes in an unaffected individualNo
Major equipmentNo
Specialized requirements for biospecimen collectionNo
Specialized trainingNo

Mode of Administration


Life Stage:


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

Research Domain Information

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.

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, Spanish


Common Data Elements (CDE)Person Substance of Abuse Begin Age2821061CDE Browser

Process and Review

The [link[phenx.org/node/101|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[www.phenxtoolkit.org/index.php?pageLink=browse.archive.protocols&id=30000|link]])


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:



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