Prescription drug abuse has reached epidemic proportions in recent years. According to the most recent Monitoring the Future study, prescription drugs are the most commonly abused class of drugs after marijuana. Much of this phenomenon can be attributed to the fact that, due to a huge increase in prescriptions, these medications are more available than they ever were before. According to the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, the number of opioid painkillers that retail pharmacies dispensed increased 48% between 2000 and 2009, and the milligram-per-person use of opioids increased an astonishing 402% between 1997 and 2007. This massive increase in the number of drugs on the market means more people have access to prescription drugs and can abuse them. Even prescription drugs procured on the black market are diverted from legitimate sources.
Adolescent vs. Adult Drug Use
According to a study published in the American Journal of Public Health, substance abuse generally peaks in late adolescence and early adulthood. At this tie, young people are still developing their own ethics and are usually away from home for the first time. This age group is prone to socialize, and experiment and is influenced by her friends. People with no risk for addiction may quit abusing drugs once they get a career and life sets in. At this stage, drug use becomes a chapter from the past for many people.
However, for some people, drug use continues into adulthood and middle age. Regarding prescription drugs specifically, the Journal reported that 7% of adult men and 8% of adult women report having misused prescription drugs within the previous twelve months.
Predictors of Adult Drug Use
The study also identified risk factors for adult drug use. By far the strongest predictor of adult drug use is a history of drug use in adolescence. To quote the Journal, “for most people the foundation for later substance use is set by the time they finish high school.” Predictors of adult drug use include the following factors:
- A history of substance abuse at 18 years of age is a strong predictor of adult drug use
- Those who used an illicit drug other than marijuana in high school are three times more likely to abuse prescription drugs in adulthood
- Married individuals are less likely to use drugs of all kinds
- Parents whose children live with them are less likely to use illicit drugs but are just as likely as non-parents and non-custodial parents to misuse prescription drugs
- People who have completed a college degree are less likely to misuse prescription drugs
- Professionals are less likely to misuse prescription drugs regardless of whether or not they possess a doctoral degree
- Those with a recent history of unemployment are more likely to misuse prescription drugs
- Persons who have not initiated drug use by the age of 20 are unlikely to initiate it later in life