Sensation seeking is associated with elevated risk for substance use among adolescents and young adults. However, whether these associations vary across age for young men and women is not well characterized.
Using data from the Monitoring the Future (MTF) panel study, we examine the age-varying associations of sensation seeking and three types of substance use behavior (binge drinking, cigarette use, and marijuana use) across ages 18 to 30 using time-varying effect modeling. Analyses include participants in the eleven most recent MTF cohorts (12th-graders in 1994-2004), who are eligible to respond through age 29/30 (N = 6338 people; 30,237 observations).
While sensation seeking levels and substance use are lower among women, the magnitude of the association of sensation seeking with binge drinking and with marijuana use among women exceeds that of men in the later 20s. Differential age trends were observed; among men, the associations generally decreased or remained constant with age. Yet among women, the associations decayed more slowly or even increased with age. Specifically, the association of sensation seeking with marijuana use among women increased during the late 20s, such that the association at age 30 exceeded that in the early 20s.
The significantly stronger associations of sensation seeking with binge drinking and marijuana use observed among women compared to men during the mid- to late-20s suggests divergent risk factors across genders for substance use during young adulthood, with sensation seeking remaining a strong risk factor for women but not men.