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College Grads More Likely to Abuse Certain Drugs

Update Date: Dec 01, 2014 03:21 PM EST

College increases the risk of stimulant drug abuse, and not going increases the risk of pain drug abuse, according to a new study.

Researchers at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health looked at data from high school graduates, non-graduates, and their college-attending counterparts.

After comparing the use of prescription opioids and stimulants, researchers found that young adults who do not attend college are significantly more likely to abuse nonmedical prescription opioid pills. However, their college-graduate counterparts were significantly more likely to abuse stimulant meds.

Study data revealed that 13.1 percent of non-college attending young adults with at least a high school degree reported abusing opioids compared to 11.3 percent of college graduates.

Women were particularly susceptible to opioid abuse, according to the study. Researchers found that the link between educational level and prescription drug use disorder was stronger in women.

"Our findings clearly show there is a need for young adult prevention and intervention programs to target nonmedical prescription drug use beyond college campuses," first study author Dr. Silvia S. Martins, MD, PhD, Mailman School of Public Health associate professor of Epidemiology, said in a news release.

Previous studies reveal that opioids are the second most-abused drug among young adults aged 18 to 22.

"This age group is particularly vulnerable to the development of adverse substance using patterns, due in part to the process of identity formation that emerges at this developmental stage," Martins noted.

"More than 40 percent of the nonmedical prescription opioid and stimulant users identified in our data who initiated use of these drugs at 18 years of age or younger went on to develop prescription opioid and stimulant disorders," Martins concluded. "Therefore, prevention messages targeting young adult users of these drugs without a prescription are crucial to prevent escalation to either of these syndromes."

The findings were published in the journal Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology.

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