June 17, 2015
2 min read

Teens initiate prescription stimulant abuse earlier than expected

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Data from a recent study indicated that adolescents were at the highest risk for initiating recreational use of prescription stimulants when they were aged 16 to 19 years, suggesting that better early-adolescent intervention programs are needed.

“The peak years of risk for first time nonmedical use of prescription stimulants started at age 16, during the high school years, rather than during the early college years as was anticipated,” study researcher Elizabeth A. Austic, PhD, MSW, MSI, of the University of Michigan, wrote in Drug and Alcohol Dependence. “These results draw attention to the timing of potential school-based and practice-based initiatives.”

Austic analyzed data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, a survey of teens and young adults conducted from 2004 to 2012. Austic separated participants by age: 12 to 15 years, 16 to 19 years and 20 to 21 years.

Respondents were asked if they had “ever, even once, used any type of prescription stimulant that was not prescribed to [them] or that [they] took only for the experience or feeling it caused.” If respondents answered “yes,” they were asked at what age they began to use specific recreational stimulants.

Across the entire group (n = 240,160), the risk for initiating prescription stimulant abuse was 0.5%. However, a spike in risk of 0.7% to 0.8% was recorded for respondents aged 16 to 19 years. Risk levels were lower for those aged 12 to 15 years, 0.1% to 0.6%; and those aged 20 to 21 years, 0.3% to 0.5%.

The researchers also reported that teenage girls were at greater risk than boys to abuse prescription stimulants (OR = 1.35; 95% CI, 1.13–1.62), particularly at 18 years. Females were twice as likely to abuse prescription diet pills (OR = 2.17; 95% CI, 1.37–3.44), while males were more likely to abuse Adderall (Shire) than females (OR = 1.55; 95% CI, 1.07–2.24).

The researchers reasoned that teens may seek out prescription stimulants based on the misconceptions that sporadic use can improve grades in school.

“These results draw attention to the timing of potential school-based and practice-based initiatives,” Austic wrote. “If these initiatives are started in early adolescence, it may become possible to reduce the risks associated with youths starting to misuse someone else’s prescription or misuse their own prescription without a physician’s knowledge.” – by David Costill

Disclosure: Austic reports no relevant financial disclosures.