The following is excerpted from an online article posted by HealthDay.
Does youthful experimentation with drugs and alcohol always fade with age? Not necessarily, a long-term study warns.
Researchers found that more than 60% of teens who report heavy use of alcohol, marijuana, and/or other drugs continue to have a drug problem as adults, often involving misuse of prescription medications.
The findings follow decades of tracking more than 5,300 high school seniors, up until age 50.
“There has been some work suggesting most people age out of substance-related problems, but these studies have not adequately accounted for the severity of the substance-related problems,” said study lead author Sean Esteban McCabe. He is director of the Center for the Study of Drugs, Alcohol, Smoking and Health at the University of Michigan, in Ann Arbor.
“We found that most U.S. adolescents with severe substance use disorder symptoms persisted with multiple symptoms in middle adulthood,” McCabe said.
The researchers began following a pool of U.S. high school seniors in 1976.
Their drug use habits were assessed at the outset. Then, participants were randomly surveyed every other year until age 30. From age 35 to 50, they were surveyed every five years.
At the outset, each of the 5,317 teens participating in the study was classified according to five levels of drug misuse. In all, about 12% of 18-year-olds reported severe drug use issues. More than 40% indicated they had at least a mild drug problem.
Fast forward over the decades: six in 10 teens with a severe drug problem went on to exhibit at least mild drug misuse as adults, often involving different drugs, or a combination of several, the investigators found.
Even teens with mild drug problems appeared to face a high risk for continued issues as adults: 54% reported mild drug abuse concerns (or worse) as they got older.
McCabe’s team also found that the more severe a teen’s drug problem was, the more likely he or she would end up misusing prescription medications later on.
The NIDA funded McCabe’s research, which was published online in JAMA Network Open.