Psychoactive Drug Abuse in Teens and Young Adults

Psychoactive Drug Abuse in Teens and Young Adults

A recent report in the journal Family Medicine & Community Health suggests that teens and young adults are abusing stimulants and tranquilizers at a troubling rate.

The study’s authors analyzed the responses of 110,556 12–25-year-olds in the U.S. who completed the 2015-2018 National Survey of Drug Use and Health to determine the drug use patterns of this age cohort.

Interestingly, among all psychoactive drugs, opioids were misused less frequently than other drugs.

Quoting the report, Medical use and misuse of psychoactive prescription medications among U.S. youth and young adults:

  • Among youth aged 12–17 who used any psychoactive prescription medications, 20.9% (1.3 million) reported misuse; 3.4% were classified as having substance use disorder.
  • Past-year use of each psychoactive prescription medication was: opioids (19.0%), stimulants (7.2%), tranquillizers (4.3%) and sedatives (2.2%).
  • Among users of each psychoactive prescription medication, the estimated percentage reporting misuse was as follows: opioids (17.6%, 0.8 million), stimulants (24.2%, 0.4 million), tranquilizers (40.1%, 0.4 million), and sedatives (14.2%, 80 000).
  • Among users of each psychoactive prescription medication, the estimated percentage having substance use disorder was as follows: opioids 2.6%,
    stimulants 3.0%, tranquilizers 7.0%, and sedatives 3.6%.

Science Daily offers this additional analysis of 18–25-year-olds, taken from the report:

  • Among 18-25-year-olds prescribed psychoactive drugs in the past year, 35% reported misuse of at least one drug. And among those prescribed at least two of these drugs, 61% reported misuse, and just under 94% reported concurrent use of another substance.
  • Among 18–25-year-olds, opioids were again the most commonly prescribed psychoactive drug (30%), followed by stimulants (14%), tranquilizers (11.5%), and sedatives (3.5%).
  • The estimated proportion of misuse in this age group was highest for tranquilizers (45%), followed by stimulants (51%), opioids (23%), and sedatives (19%).

So, what could be driving these trends?

While the study did not draw conclusions, they did note that 11.5% of the 18–25-year-olds who completed the survey also reported severe psychological difficulties.

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