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01.12.2015 | Research article | Ausgabe 1/2016 Open Access

BMC Public Health 1/2016

Prevalence, correlates, and associated psychological problems of substance use in Korean adolescents

BMC Public Health > Ausgabe 1/2016
Subin Park, Yeni Kim
Wichtige Hinweise

Competing interests

The authors declare that they have no competing interests.

Authors’ contributions

SP designed the study, analyzed the data, and prepared the first draft of the report. YK participated in its design and coordination and helped to draft the manuscript. SP wrote the final report. Both authors read and approved the final manuscript.



Substance use among Korean adolescents has been increasing, but little is known about the correlates of substance use in this population. Identification of the correlates is required for development of preventive approaches that aim to reduce or eliminate risk. Therefore, we examined the prevalence and correlates of substance use including psychological problems in a nationwide sample of Korean adolescents.


Data from the 2014 Korean Youth Risk Behavior Web-Based Survey, collected from 72,060 adolescents aged 12–18 years (mean age 14.94 ± 1.75 years), were analyzed. Participants’ lifetime experiences with substances (alcohol, tobacco, and illicit drugs) were assessed. Participants’ perceived stress, depressive mood, and suicidality during the previous 12 months were also investigated.


The lifetime prevalence estimates of alcohol, tobacco, and illicit drug use were 43.0, 19.9, and 0.4 % of the participants, respectively. The most commonly used illicit drugs were inhalants. Older age, male gender, non-residence with family, low parental educational level and socio-economic status, and low academic achievement were positively and significantly associated with substance use. Substance (alcohol, tobacco, and illicit drug) use was positively and significantly associated with severe stress, depressive mood, and suicidality during the previous 12 months, with the highest odds ratios obtained from illicit drug use.


These results indicate that the use of substances (alcohol, tobacco, and illicit drugs) among Korean adolescents is associated with socially disadvantaged families, psychological problems, and risky behavior. Health education including dependency prevention programs is needed for these high-risk groups.
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