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Peers, not Peer Pressure, Linked to Prescription Drug Misuse in Young Adults

Update Date: Aug 16, 2014 09:06 AM EDT

Peer pressure is usually cited as one of the factors that contributes to illicit drug, prescription drug and alcohol misuse in adolescents and young adults. In a new study, researchers from Purdue University examined the effects of peer pressure specifically on young adults' prescription drug abuse. They found that it is peer association, not peer pressure that is linked to an increased risk of misuse.

"With the 18-29 age group we may be spending unnecessary effort working a peer pressure angle in prevention and intervention efforts. That does not appear to be an issue for this age group," said study co-author Brian Kelly, a professor of sociology and anthropology reported in the press release. "Rather, we found more subtle components of the peer context as influential. These include peer drug associations, peers as points of drug access, and the motivation to misuse prescription drugs to have pleasant times with friends."

For this study, which was funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), the researchers surveyed 404 young adults between the ages of 18 and 29 from 2011 to 2013. The researchers also conducted 214 in-person interviews. The participants, who were selected from popular nightlife locations in New York City, had misused prescription drugs. Overall, participants abused prescription drugs an average of 38 times within the past 90 days.

The researchers focused on three prescription drug abuse patterns, which were frequency of drug misuse, use of drugs in ways other than swallowing, such as smoking or injecting, and symptoms of dependency. The team discovered that association with these drugs through peers was positively tied to all three factors.

"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," Kelly said. "We find that friends are not actively pressuring them, but it's a desire to have a good time alongside friends that matters."

The study's finding was presented at the 109th Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Association.

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