Experimentation is a common behavior during adolescence. Young adulthood is a time when individuals begin exploring new relationships, activities, and even substances. Drug use among young adults is not uncommon. However, adolescents who continue to abuse drugs and alcohol are more likely to engage in risky sexual activity, aggression, and unlawful behaviors. There are many factors that have been shown to increase the likelihood of substance abuse during this time, including anxiety, depression, childhood trauma or abuse and family history. In order to identify which factors pose the highest risk to teens, Michael Harrington, a psychiatrist with the Health Sciences Center of the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg examined data from the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions (NESARC), a longitudinal study designed to assess mental health issues in adults over several years.
Using a sample of more than 34,000 individuals, Harrington evaluated the participants at baseline and again 3 years later. He found that among the participants who tried illicit drugs during the 3 years, nearly half had experimented with cannabis and just over 38% had used opioids. Harrington also discovered that although the teen years present a ripe environment during which individuals first experiment, young adults, specifically those ranging from 18 to 29 years old, represented the largest group to experiment with illicit drugs. Risk factors associated with drug use included childhood trauma or difficulty, family history, and mood disorders. However, Harrington noticed that the participants with existing anxiety issues were more likely to experiment with alcohol than drugs.
The study is one of the first to examine specific factors related to drug use and how they influence the development of abuse. Overall, childhood trauma, family history, and mood problems were the strongest indicators of later drug use in the sample. Harrington emphasizes that although anxiety raised the risk for alcohol misuse, it did not contribute to further drug use later on. He believes that these results could benefit young adults at risk for substance abuse and the therapists who treat them. “Clinicians should work with people to minimize the likelihood of involvement with these potentially harmful substances.” Harrington added, “This information will help identify people who are most at risk of initiating substance use and who will benefit from services to protect and inform them.”
Harrington, M., Robinson, J., Bolton, S.-L., Sareen, J. A Longitudinal Study of Risk Factors for Incident Drug Use in Adults: Findings From a Representative Sample of the US Population. Canadian Journal of Psychiatry56.11 (2011): 686-95. Print.
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