Peer Group Could Influence Medication Abuse Patterns

Prescription medicine misuse in young adults was common and influenced by peer networks

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Prescription medicine misuse continues to be a problem in the United States, and researchers recently wanted to find out why.

To better understand the social influences that shape prescription medicine misuse, researchers from Purdue University went to nightclubs and bars to conduct interviews.

The researchers found high rates of prescription medicine misuse — and many of the peer groups found it acceptable.

"Seek medical care for substance abuse problems."

The study was written by Brian Kelly, PhD, of the Department of Sociology at Purdue University in West Lafayette, IN, and colleagues.

The authors set out to examine the effects of peer influence on prescription medicine misuse in young adults.

They conducted surveys at common youth hangouts. The surveys questioned demographic information and substance use habits. Participants were between 18 and 29 years old.

The study authors asked them to report whether they had misused prescription medicines three times in the past six months or at least once in the past 90 days.

Medicines were divided into three types: painkillers, sedatives and stimulants. The authors defined misuse as “using prescription drugs obtained from a non-medical source, using more than the prescribed dose, or using prescription drugs for a non-medical recreational purpose.”

Among the 404 study participants who misused prescription drugs in the past 90 days, 54.7 percent were men. The researchers conducted 214 in-person interviews.

To study the role peers played in medicine misuse, the authors asked questions to determine whether participants received medications from friends and friends’ opinions of medicine misuse.

The authors found that 370 (91.6 percent) reported misusing painkillers, 365 (90.4 percent) misused sedatives and 367 (90.8 percent) misused stimulants.

Looking for trends, the authors found that, for every time in the past 90 days participants misused prescription medicines, they were 0.9 percent more likely to misuse them again.

Also, they found the number of sources for prescription medicines was a “significant predictor” of misuse. For every extra source, frequency of use increased by 22.9 percent.

“The misuse of medication is rooted in a number of mechanisms, and it has been shown to be socially acceptable among youth, where experimentation with drugs is deliberate,” the authors wrote.

"We found that peer drug associations are positively associated with all three outcomes," Dr. Kelly said. "If there are high perceived social benefits or low perceived social consequences within the peer network, they are more likely to lead to a greater frequency of misuse, as well as a greater use of non-oral methods of administration and a greater likelihood of displaying symptoms of dependence. The motivation to misuse prescription drugs to have a good time with friends is also associated with all three outcomes. The number of sources of drugs in their peer group also matters, which is notable since sharing prescription drugs is common among these young adults."

The authors concluded that feeling benefits and peer approval associated with medicine misuse influenced substance abuse patterns.

The study was presented Aug. 16 at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association in San Francisco, CA.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse funded the study.

Review Date: 
August 15, 2014
Last Updated:
August 18, 2014