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ABSTRACT Aims Limited data are available about whether rural–urban migration, often characterized by exposure to urban life stress and a reduction in social network and support, can affect the prevalence of illicit drug use and hazardous/harmful drinking. The purpose of our study was to examine the prevalence of these risky behaviours among Thai young adults and to describe their association between their migration status and these outcomes. Design A population-based cross-sectional survey. Setting A representative sample of 1052 residents, aged 16–25 years (467 males and 585 females) in a suburban community of Bangkok in 2003 and 2004. Measurements (i) Exposures—migration (defined as the occasion when a young person born in a more rural area moves for the first time into Greater Bangkok); and (ii) outcomes—illicit drug use was assessed with an anonymous self-report adapted from the Diagnostic Interview Schedule (DIS) and hazardous/harmful drinking with Alcohol Use Disorder Identification Test (AUDIT). Findings The results showed that 10.9% (82 males and 17 females) had illicit drug use and 24.3% (179 males and 62 females) hazardous and harmful drinking. In multivariate analysis, rural–urban migration was not associated with illicit drug use, whereas hazardous/harmful drinking was associated independently with being late migrants, who moved at the age of 15 or older. Conclusions Illicit drug use and hazardous/harmful drinking were common among young Thais. The potential effect of migration on hazardous and harmful drinking identified in this study may be helpful for the design and implementation of preventive measures.