There are a large number of factors that may increase the risk for opioid abuse, dependence and/or addiction. Age is one of them. Certain age groups are more likely to experiment with and abuse prescription and illegal opioids. Understanding the reasons why may help you identify loved ones who may be headed down the path or help you see the bio-psycho-social context in which abuse develops so that you can see abuse and addiction are not personal failures or character flaws.
Ages at Highest Risk for Drug Abuse
Statistically, the age group at highest risk for drug abuse is 18-25 years. The biopsychological “phenomenon” of adolescence largely drives abuse for this age group. During this developmental period, individuals are “hard-wired” to:
- Crave new experiences
- Form unique identities
Because their social groups are integral to their individual identity formation, peer pressure takes on a new level of intensity. For that reason, individuals may be more vulnerable to persuasion and more likely to try things that promise to enhance their performance—physically and/or mentally—to get an edge among their peer group.
Unfortunately, during this time, many adults-in-the-making are not equipped with many healthy coping strategies to effectively deal with strong emotions and/or situations outside their control.
Without healthy role models and strong social networks, drugs often become the means by which adolescents “solve” their problems. But, the uneven development of different parts of the brain make even trying drugs risky for this age group. During adolescence, the reward/pain center of the brain is fully developed; the area of the brain that controls impulsivity and emotions is not. That means young adults are not likely to reason through the consequences of experimenting with and/or abusing drugs.
Other Age-Related Drug Statistics
Although 18-25 year-olds are at the highest risk for drug abuse, no age group is immune. Since drug abuse often interferes with healthy social development and/or building new/healthy coping strategies, older adults who have abused drugs in their teens and 20s are left with limited strategies and resources to address challenges and emotional upsets in their 30s, 40s and beyond…and that keeps the abuse cycle going.
An individual who developed a drug abuse pattern during adolescence may not experience the most severe consequences until much later. Statistically, adults between the ages of 45 and 49 are the most likely to suffer from opioid overdose.
Older adults who may have successfully avoided drug abuse in early adulthood may also be at increased risk for abuse later in their lives if they suffer from an illness or injury that requires a consistent or rotating regimen of opioids for pain relief.
The Bottom Line
No one is immune from the risk of drug abuse. Even people who have made healthy choices all their lives may find themselves chemically dependent after a traumatic injury.
However, “at risk” does not mean opioid abuse or dependence is inevitable. You can prevent becoming an abuse or overdose statistic because you always have the greatest weapon—choice.
We know you can’t choose everything about your circumstances. But, you can choose what you do to cope with your circumstances. Equipping yourself with a strong social network and a toolbox full of strategies to handle life’s stresses is the best choice you can make.
Duke City Recovery Toolbox is one place where you can build up your resources—healthy social connections and coping strategies—to overcome abuse/addiction or recognize loved ones who need encouragement to seek help.