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March 8, 2018

College students who have difficulty regulating their emotions could be susceptible to the nonmedical use of prescription analgesics like opioid-containing pain relievers.

The nonmedical use of prescription analgesics (NPA) is a pervasive and growing health concern, resulting in an unprecedented number of overdose deaths in the U.S. each year.

While many studies have focused on correlates of NPA among samples of individuals receiving addiction treatment, fewer have attempted to understand individual-level characteristics that might place a person at risk for starting to engage in NPA.

In this study, led by Dr. Amelia Arria, director of the Center on Young Adult Health and Development, the results showed that conduct problems, affective dysregulation, depressive symptoms, and psychological distress predicted who would start nonmedical use of prescription analgesics. The findings appear in the January issue of the journal Addictive Behaviors.

Affective dysregulation (the inability of a person to control their emotional responses) and depression distinguished individuals who engage in NPA from individuals who use other types of drugs and those who do not use drugs at all. In contrast, conduct problems did not differentiate individuals who engaged in NPA from individuals who use other drugs.

The research could be used to identify individuals who can be helped by preventive interventions, the study authors say.

The data were collected as part of the College Life Study, a longitudinal study of young adults from their first year at a large public university until after graduation. The sample was drawn from incoming first-year students at one large public university in the mid-Atlantic region.

The current study analyzed data from 929 college students who were “NPA naïve” during their freshman year. By junior year, 9.4 percent of the sample had started to engage in NPA.

The vast majority of students who engaged in NPA (91.9 percent) were using another illicit drug or prescription drug nonmedically.

NPA is more common among young adults than older adults, according to research referenced in the report. Adolescents and young adults have also reported self-treatment for anxiety, psychological trauma, and poor emotional control as a motive for NPA.

The authors suggest that further research is necessary to replicate these findings, which might lay the foundation for novel prevention efforts to reduce drug use among young adults. College is an opportune time to intervene with students who might be at risk for drug use or starting to escalate their drug use.

"Affective dysregulation predicts incident nonmedical prescription analgesic use among college students" was written by Amelia Arria, Christina Morioka,  Donna E. Howard, Kimberly Caldeira, and Min Qi Wang. It was published in Addictive Behaviors

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Affective dysregulation predicts incident nonmedical prescription analgesic use among college students.

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Min Qi Wang, Amelia Arria, Christina Morioka, Donna E. Howard, Kimberly Caldeira