Open Access Open Badges Research article

Running away experience and psychoactive substance use among adolescents in Taiwan: multi-city street outreach survey

Shi-Heng Wang1, Wen-Chun Chen1, Chih-Yin Lew-Ting23, Chuan-Yu Chen24 and Wei J Chen125*

Author Affiliations

1 Institute of Epidemiology, College of Public Health, National Taiwan University, 17 Xuzhou Road, Taipei 100, Taiwan

2 Department of Public Health, College of Public Health, National Taiwan University, 17 Xuzhou Road, Taipei 100, Taiwan

3 Institute of Health Policy and Management, College of Public Health, National Taiwan University, 17 Xuzhou Road, Taipei 100, Taiwan

4 Division of Mental Health and Addiction Medicine Research, National Health Research Institutes, 35 Keyan Road, Zhunan, Miaoli County 350, Taiwan

5 Department of Psychiatry, College of Medicine and National Taiwan University Hospital, National Taiwan University, 7 Chung-Shan South Road, Taipei 100, Taiwan

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BMC Public Health 2010, 10:29  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-10-29

Published: 20 January 2010



This study aimed to examine: 1) the relationship between being a runaway and the time since the first absconding event and adolescent substance use; 2) whether different kinds of psychoactive substances have a different temporal relationship to the first absconding event; and 3) whether the various reasons for the first absconding event are associated with different risks of substance use.


Participants were drawn from the 2004-2006 nationwide outreach programs across 26 cities/towns in Taiwan. A total of 17,133 participants, age 12-18 years, who completed an anonymous questionnaire on their experience of running away and substances use and who were now living with their families, were included in the analysis.


The lifetime risk of tobacco, alcohol, betel nut, and illegal drug/inhalant use increased steadily from adolescents who had experienced a trial runaway episode (one time lasting ≤ 1 day), to those with extended runaway experience (≥ 2 times or lasting > 1 day), when compared to those who had never ran away. Adolescents who had their first running away experience > 6 months previously had a greater risk of betel nut or illegal drug/inhalant use over the past 6-months than those with a similar experience within the last 6 months. Both alcohol and tobacco use were most frequently initiated before the first running away, whereas both betel nut and illegal drug/inhalant use were most frequently initiated after this event. When adolescents who were fleeing an unsatisfactory home life were compared to those who ran away for excitement, the risk of alcohol use was similar but the former tended to have a higher risk of tobacco, betel nut, and illegal drug/inhalant use.


More significant running away and a longer time since the first absconding experience were associated with more advanced substance involvement among adolescents now living in a family setting. Once adolescents had left home, they developed additional psychoactive substance problems, regardless of their reasons for running away. These findings have implications for caregivers, teachers, and healthcare workers when trying to prevent and/or intervening in adolescent substance use.