Does Age Affect Susceptibility to Addiction?

Does Age Affect Susceptibility to Addiction?

Does the age at which one first experiments with a drug influence whether one develops an addiction to that drug?

That’s a question researchers at the National Institute on Drug Abuse (a division of NIH) are seeking to answer. Their findings, recently published in JAMA Pediatrics, suggest age does matter.

The study team analyzed data from the 2015 to 2018 National Surveys on Drug Use and Health conducted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration to draw their conclusions.

The team looked at the number of adolescents (ages 12-17) and young adults (ages 18-25) who had a substance use disorder in the past year and compared that to the when individuals in each cohort first used nine different substances: tobacco, alcohol, cannabis, cocaine, methamphetamine, heroin, and prescription drugs (opioids, stimulants, and tranquilizers used non-medically).

Of particular interest are their findings regarding susceptibility following the first misuse of prescription drugs…

  • 11.2% of adolescents had prescription opioid use disorder versus 6.9% of young adults.
  • 13.9% of adolescents had prescription stimulant use disorder versus 3.9% of young adults.
  • 11.2% of adolescents had prescription tranquilizer use disorder versus 4.7% of young adults.

Estimates of cocaine, methamphetamine, and heroin use among adolescents were too small to be meaningful. However, among young adults, one-third developed a heroin use disorder, and roughly twenty-five percent developed a methamphetamine use disorder within a year of first trying each drug.

According to Emily B. Einstein, Ph.D., chief of NIDA’s Science Policy Branch and a co-author of the study, “This (study) underscores the importance of drug use prevention and screening for substance use or misuse among adolescents and young adults. Offering timely treatment and support to young people who need it must be a public health priority.”[i]

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