Who is most at risk of prescription drug abuse?

Who is most at risk of prescription drug abuse?

Prescription drugs are specialized medication designed to treat a specific condition under the supervision of a doctor. Unfortunately, many people abuse these drugs by using them beyond their recommended dosage or without a prescription. Prescription drugs are the second-most commonly abused drug in the United States, with approximately 2.4 million abusers in 2010. According to the National Survey of Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), about 6,600 people start abusing prescription drugs every day. Taking a closer look at the demographics of these people can reveal who is most at risk of abuse.


Young adults abuse prescription drugs more than any other age group. Studies by the NSDUH show that 5.9 percent of people aged 18 to 25 have abused prescription drugs within the past month. Even among adolescents aged 12 to 17, the rate is as high as 3 percent, with females being particularly at risk. Young people typically acquire their prescription drugs from friends or relatives rather than purchasing them on the Internet or abusing their own medication.

Young people who abuse prescription drugs are much more likely to abuse various other drugs as well. According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse, several studies have shown a correlation between prescription drug use and increased risk of cigarette smoking, binge drinking and use of illicit narcotics such as marijuana and cocaine.

The elderly

Older adults are the second most common prescription drug abusers. One obvious reason is the increased availability of medication. People aged 65 and over account for about one-third of the total spending on prescription drugs. Abuse of these drugs is not necessarily deliberate. The combination of multiple long-term medications with cognitive decline can result in the elderly accidentally misusing their medication when not properly overseen. On the other hand, some elderly patients who live on a fixed income may attempt to save money by using the medication of their friends rather than purchasing medicine prescribed for them personally.

The elderly are also at a heightened risk of complications from medication abuse. Older people are more likely to have multiple health issues and be taking other types of medications at the same time. When using prescription medication that has not been professionally cleared for them, the elderly are far more prone to having an adverse and potentially fatal reaction than younger drug abusers.

Each year, about 1 million emergency room visits occur as a result of prescription drug abuse. If you or someone you know might be at risk of prescription drug abuse, it is critically important to seek help before serious health consequences can result. The Prescription Drug Abuse Helpline of California is a 24/7 resource to find the right treatment options. Call to speak to one of our health specialists.