The present study examined the joint development of substance use and externalizing problems in early and middle adolescence. First, it was tested whether the relevant groups found in previous studies i.e., those with an early onset, a late onset, and no onset or low levels of risk behavior could be identified, while using a developmental model of a single, underlying construct of risk behavior. Second, departing from Moffitt's taxonomy of antisocial behavior, it was tested if early, but not late, onset risk behavior is predicted by a problematic risk profile in childhood. Data were used from TRAILS, a population based cohort study, starting at age 11 with two follow-ups at mean ages of 13.6 and 16.3 years. Latent transition analyses demonstrated that, both in early and middle adolescence, a single underlying construct of risk behavior, consisting of two classes (labeled as low and high risk behavior), adequately represented the data. Respondents could be clearly classified into four possible transition patterns from early to middle adolescence, with a transition from high to low being almost non-existent (2.5 %), low to low (39.4 %) and low to high (41.8 %) being the most prevalent, and high to high (16.2 %) substantial. As hypothesized, only the high-high group was characterized by a clear adverse predictor profile in late childhood, while the low-high group was not. This study demonstrates that the development of substance use is correlated with externalizing problems and underscores the theory that etiologies of early and later onset risk behavior are different. © The Author(s) 2012.