Who Is at Risk for Opioid Misuse, Dependence, and Addiction?
At the Individual Level
Did you know, some of the people most at risk for misusing opioids include those with a history of mental illness like depression, posttraumatic stress disorder, or anxiety? Others at risk are those with acute and chronic pain; recent back pain; and other physical health problems like fatigue or headaches. Those with heightened physiological reactions and those who have a more euphoric reaction to certain types of drugs are also more at risk. The link between pain, physical health problems, and opioid misuse exists because opioids are often prescribed to lessen pain.
People usually start by using opioids as prescribed, then they develop dependence, then they have a difficult time tapering off, and ultimately, they find a way to access and use opioids against the original doctor’s orders. Having a past history of other substance use or misuse also increases the risk for opioid misuse, dependence, and addiction. People who have a history of illicit drug use and who use alcohol heavily are at a greater risk.
On the other hand, some of the individual beliefs, factors, and actions that can protect people from opioid misuse, dependence, and addiction are:
- individuals who commit to doing well in life
- individuals who are current students
- individuals with a high school diploma
- individuals who have attended a prevention class
- individuals who are concerned about the negative effects of opioids
Students who are committed to a school and have strong school ties and connections are less likely to engage in risky behaviors. Some research suggests this occurs because once a student has strong school bonds, they are more likely to conform to the values of the school. If the school discourages substance use or misuse, then a strongly bonded student will be more likely to remain faithful to what’s expected and not engage in substance use.
Peer pressure and environmental pressure are real factors, and positive peer and environmental pressure can have helpful effects regarding opioid misuse, dependence, and addiction. However, one study found that having a college degree was associated with a higher likelihood of unintentional fatal opioid overdose at home for New York City residents. So, people who have college degrees don’t need to think they are immune to the risk of opioid misuse, dependence, and addiction.
At the Relationship Level
At the relationship level, our inner circle of family and friends heavily influences our attitudes and behaviors. Family, especially parents, can influence non-medical opioid use among children both positively and negatively. Adolescent children whose parents are open about their disapproval of substance abuse and kids who have a strong bond with their parents are less likely to misuse prescription drugs. Children and teens whose parents express favorable attitudes toward substance use, however, are more likely to misuse prescription drugs.
Young people who associate with a large number of friends that misuse prescription drugs are more likely to do the same compared to those whose friends don’t misuse prescription drugs.
Also, some social groups and situations can trigger misuse. For example, compared to college students who are not in fraternities and sororities, college students who are involved with fraternities and sororities were more likely to misuse prescription drugs.
One study showed Filipino-Americans who experienced discrimination in their normal, everyday interactions were more likely to misuse prescription drugs compared to those who didn’t face discrimination.
At the Community Level
At the community level, multiple moves within a short period of time and other types of unstable life experiences can be associated with negative childhood experiences and can put a child at risk for development and social problems. Multiple moves to different homes, neighborhoods, and school districts can be unsettling to youth on many levels. When children and teens move, social frameworks and support shift—they can lose friendships, social support, and access to resources that can help them navigate various challenges that most youths face.
In addition, research suggests that having supportive organizations in schools is helpful for sexual and gender minority students in high school, and helps protect against prescription opioid medication misuse.
Community norms that disapprove of non-medical opioid use also help protect kids from getting caught up in opioid misuse, dependence, and addiction. If the community as a whole disapproves of non-medical opioid use (or if young people think that their community frowns upon it), young people in that community will be less likely to misuse prescription drugs.
All of these factors point to the importance of being aware of the negative effects of opioid misuse and having conversations about those negative effects. Parents, teachers, school counselors, doctors, and community leaders have an important role in making sure residents of Alabama know the dangers of non-medical opioid use.
No Judgment: Opioid Help is Here.
The Council on Substance Abuse-NCADD (COSA-NCADD) offers recovery support services to individuals with opioid use disorders (OUDs) and their families. Together with peers in recovery, treatment providers, and other community organizations, we strive to offer hope while meeting the specialized needs of those seeking help.
If you or someone you know needs help with opioid dependence, please call 1-877-HELP-4AL now. The helpline provides confidential assistance for those who need help themselves and guidance for those seeking help for loved ones. When you call, you’ll be greeted by a friendly, compassionate peer-support specialist who has personal experience in recovery from a mental health or substance abuse issue. They are here to help you and will never judge you or your circumstances.
We have people ready to help you, so call 1-877-HELP-4AL (1-877-435-7425) today.