Pharmaceutical drug misuse and addiction disorders are rapidly replacing the “traditional” model of street drugs as the primary driver of unsafe drug use among teens and adults in the US.


Tens of millions of Americans are prescribed dangerous pharmaceutical narcotics every year. Examples include Xanax (alprazolam), Oxycontin (oxycodone), and Adderall (amphetamine salts). Millions more, including teens and young adults, use popular pharmaceutical drugs illegally. 


Contrary to popular belief, drugs are not necessarily safer just because they are produced in a lab. In fact, many medicinal formulations contain compounds that mimic the activity of “street” drugs. For example, Xanax works on the same GABA brain receptors as alcohol, Oxycontin is sourced from the same plant as heroin, and Adderall’s physiological effects are identical to methamphetamine and other amphetamine-based stimulants. Several factors influence the likelihood of an individual to develop a substance use disorder. We’ll explore them here. 


The Connection Between Prescription Drug Abuse and Substance Use Disorder


The study’s most interesting findings include the discovery that adults who misuse prescription medications are significantly more likely to develop diagnosable substance abuse disorders. 


Adults whose prescription misuse peaked after age 27 were in the highest risk group for lifelong substance use disorder. 


The Socially Acceptable Nature of Prescription Drugs


Social influences play an important role in the development and ultimate resolution of abuse and addiction. 


Whereas a significant social stigma exists that might spur many “street” drug users to seek help, others who abuse prescription drugs are less likely to experience the ostracization and disapproval of those in their social group.


Without the proper social disincentive, many prescription drug users never believe that they have a problem that they should seek help for. 


Who is Most Likely to Develop Substance Use Disorder Following Prescription Abuse?


According to the study, the following factors showed a positive correlation to prescription misuse:


  • White race.
  • No higher education.
  • Heavy drinking, marijuana, and/or cigarette use in high school.
  • Concurrent abuse of multiple prescription drugs (“poly-prescription drug misuse”).


The researchers cited the need for greater outreach and counseling to groups identified in the study as being at a higher risk of developing a substance use disorder. Working together, we can help curb the epidemic of drug misuse in our young adult population.