Do You Know the 5 Risk Categories for Teen Prescription Drug Abuse?

Posted on March 16th, 2015
Posted in Teens

Researchers have concluded that the factors most likely to lead to teen prescription drug abuse impact several key aspects of a teen’s daily life, including family, school, community and peer group relations, as well as individual tendencies.

In the U.S., a small but sizable number of teenagers abuse a prescription medication classified as an opioid, stimulant, tranquilizer or sedative. A range of social and personal factors may make involvement in prescription drug abuse more or less likely to occur. In a study review published in January 2015 in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, researchers from Tufts University examined the factors that increase the odds that an American teenager will misuse or abuse a prescription medication.

Teens and Prescription Drug Abuse

The National Institute on Drug Abuse uses a University of Michigan-conducted project called Monitoring the Future to keep tabs on America’s yearly trends for teen prescription drug misuse or abuse. Monitoring the Future tracks teens enrolled in the eighth, 10th and 12th grades; however, when it comes to prescription medication intake, the University of Michigan only supplies complete information for 12th graders. In the year 2014, the lifetime rate of all forms of prescription drug abuse among America’s 12th graders was 19.9 percent. Nearly 14 percent of all high school seniors abused/misused a prescription medication at least once over the course of the year, and roughly 6.4 percent of all high school seniors took part in monthly prescription drug abuse. Rates for lifetime, yearly and monthly abuse fell among 12th graders between 2013 and 2014.

The single most widely abused prescription medication among the nation’s high school seniors is the ADHD medication Adderall, which contains a combination of amphetamine and a related substance called dextroamphetamine. In descending order of popularity, additional abused/misused medications include the opioid painkiller Vicodin, prescription cough syrup, tranquilizers, sedatives, the opioid painkiller OxyContin and the ADHD stimulant medication Ritalin.

Risk and Preventive Factors for Teens

Broadly speaking, there are five categories or domains that affect drug abuse patterns among teenagers and younger children: family, community, school, peer groups and individual tendencies. Each of these domains encompasses factors that increase drug-related risks, as well as factors that decrease drug-related risks. For example, in the family domain, poor parenting or disrupted bonds between parent and child can make drug consumption more likely to occur, while high quality parenting and strong parent-child bonds can make drug consumption less likely to occur. Similarly, in the peer group domain, associations with substance-using friends may make a teen or younger child more prone to substance experimentation, while friendships with peers who disapprove of substance use may help deter experimentation.

Which Risk Factors Are Most Relevant?

In the study review published in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, the Tufts University researchers used the results of previous studies published between 2006 and 2012 as the basis for an analysis of the factors that have the greatest impact on a teenager’s odds of abusing a prescription medication. Some of the studies under consideration were also reviews of prior work, while others contained new research. The current analysis included assessments of specific factors from each of the five acknowledged risk domains for teen and preteen drug use.

After completing their analysis, the researchers concluded that, in the community domain, the biggest risk factor for teen involvement in prescription drug abuse is relatively convenient access to someone else’s prescription medications. In the school domain, the biggest risk factors center on a lack of academic achievement. In the peer domain, two factors—a positive attitude toward prescription drug abuse and friends’ participation in prescription drug abuse— play the biggest roles. Similarly, in the family domain, parents’ positive attitudes toward prescription drug abuse and parents’ actual participation in prescription drug abuse contribute the most to teens’ risks. In the individual domain, factors predictive of involvement in teen medication abuse include having a history of other forms of substance intake and having a history of significant conduct problems. Interestingly, a personal belief in the dangers of prescription drug abuse may also make participation in such abuse more likely to occur.

The study review’s authors believe their findings add substantially to the understanding of the factors that increase a teenager’s chances of becoming a prescription drug abuser. They also believe that their work underscores the multiple approaches that public health officials can use to decrease the likelihood that any given teen will abuse a prescription substance.

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