The inability to quantify the risk for disorders, such as substance use disorders (SUD), hinders etiology research and development of targeted intervention. Based on the concept of common transmissible liability to SUD related to illicit drugs, a method enabling quantification of this latent trait has been developed, utilizing high-risk design and item response theory. This study examined properties of a SUD transmissible liability index (TLI) derived using this method. Sons of males with or without SUD were studied longitudinally from preadolescence to young adulthood. The properties of TLI, including its psychometric characteristics, longitudinal risk assessment and ethnic variation, were examined. A pilot twin study was conducted to analyze the composition of TLI's phenotypic variance. The data suggest that TLI has concurrent, incremental, predictive and discriminant validity, as well as ethnic differences. The data suggest a high heritability of the index in males. The results suggest applicability of the method for genetic and other etiology-related research, and for evaluation of individual risk.