Young Adults Who Don’t Attend College at Higher Risk for Opioid Abuse
Opioid use disorder is the diagnosis doctors in the U.S. use to identify people affected by opioid addiction or dysfunctional opioid abuse. Some people have problems related to the use/abuse of an opioid medication, while others have problems related to the use/abuse of an illegal opioid drug. In a study published in late 2014 in the journal Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology, a team of American and Taiwanese researchers sought to determine if college attendance or a lack of college attendance alters the odds that a young adult will abuse a prescription opioid substance and subsequently develop diagnosable problems.
Opioid Use Disorder
The American Psychiatric Association created the opioid use disorder diagnosis in 2013 as part of a larger change in the definitions of substance abuse and substance addiction. These two conditions, once viewed as separate issues, are now recognized as overlapping problems that often appear together in the same individual. Within any given year, a person diagnosed with opioid use disorder must have at least two out of 11 potential symptoms of opioid addiction and/or clearly dysfunctional opioid abuse. Examples of these symptoms include a recurring craving for the consumption of opioid substances, a loss of control over the intake of opioid substances, an opioid-related inability to fulfill responsibilities or obligations, repeated intake of opioids in physically dangerous situations, rising tolerance to the effects of opioids and the onset of a withdrawal syndrome when the brain doesn’t receive its accustomed opioid supply.
When making their diagnoses, doctors must indicate how severely opioid use disorder impacts their patients. A mild case of the condition involves two or three symptoms, while a moderate case involves four or five symptoms. A severe case of opioid use disorder involves a minimum of six and a maximum of 11 symptoms.
College and Drug/Medication Abuse
A federally sponsored, yearly project called the National Survey on Drug Use and Health tracks the rate of medication and drug abuse among American college students. According to the latest reported version of this survey (which covers the year 2013), roughly 22 percent of all full-time college enrollees between the ages of 18 and 22 abuse some type of drug or medication in the typical month. This rate of abuse is just a single percentage point lower than the rate found among part-time college enrollees and people in the same age group who don’t attend college. Men enrolled in college have higher chances of participating in drug/medication abuse than women. In terms of racial/ethnic background, the highest college abuse rates occur among European Americans, Hispanics and African Americans (in descending order of frequency).
Impact of College Attendance
In the study published in Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology, researchers used data from three years of the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (2008 through 2010) to compare the rate of prescription opioid abuse among college students to the rate of abuse among young adults in the age range of 18 to 22 who don’t attend college. The researchers also compared the risks for opioid use disorder between these two groups. All told, 36,781 young adults contributed information to the study.
The researchers concluded that young adults who attend college have a smaller chance of abusing prescription opioids than their age contemporaries who don’t go to college. The difference between the two groups is significant but relatively minor (a roughly 11 percent rate of abuse among college attendees vs. a roughly 13 percent rate of abuse among non-students). The researchers also concluded that college students have smaller chances of developing opioid use disorder than their age counterparts who don’t attend college. The difference in risk here is substantially larger; while 11.7 percent of college students develop the disorder, 17.4 percent of young adults who graduated from high school and 19.1 percent of young adults who didn’t graduate from high school develop the disorder.
The study’s authors note that compared to their contemporaries who attend college, young women who don’t attend college are particularly susceptible to developing diagnosable problems related to the abuse of a prescription opioid. They also note that relative risks for abuse are reversed for the consumption of prescription stimulants. College students have elevated chances of abusing these substances when compared to their age contemporaries who don’t attend college.
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