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Most teens with substance use disorder still have it as adults, study finds

Many teens with substance use disorder continue to have symptoms as adults, according to a new study. Photo courtesy of U.S. Department of Agriculture
Many teens with substance use disorder continue to have symptoms as adults, according to a new study. Photo courtesy of U.S. Department of Agriculture

April 1 (UPI) -- Most teenagers who develop substance use disorders continue to suffer from problems related to drug or alcohol addiction as adults, a study published Friday by JAMA Network Open found.

About 12% of 18-year-olds included in the analysis had severe symptoms of substance use disorder, or the persistent use of drugs despite substantial physical and emotional harm and adverse consequences, the data showed.

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More than 60% of teens in the study with severe substance use disorder had at least two symptoms of it as adults, the researchers.

These teens were more than 50% more likely to misuse prescription drugs as adults, with more than half abusing prescription opioid pain medications, according to the researchers.

RELATED Study: One-third of U.S. teens, young adults misuse prescription drugs

"This is a major wake-up call," study co-author Sean Esteban McCabe said in a press release.

"We must rethink how we screen and prescribe to individuals who have multiple substance use disorder symptoms in their past," said McCabe, a professor at the University of Michigan School of Nursing in Ann Arbor.

As many as one in three people in the United States will develop a substance use disorder in their lifetimes, the National Institute on Drug Abuse estimates.

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Previous studies have found that teens who abuse opioids continue to be at risk for overdosing these drugs as adults.

For this study, McCabe and his colleagues followed more than 5,300 people who turned age 18 years between 1976 and 1986 for a period of more than 30 years.

Those with symptoms of severe substance use disorder, which include needing a drug to function day-to-day and needing more of it to achieve a "high," at age 18 years, were tracked to see if they had symptoms at ages 35 to 50 years, the researchers said.

Most of the people in the study with long-term substance use disorder did not seek treatment, the data showed.

In addition, more than half of the adults in the study prescribed opioid pain medications, which can be addictive, had "multiple substance use disorder symptoms at age 18" years, according to McCabe.

"[This raises] serious concerns about the safety of prescribing controlled substances to these individuals," McCabe said.

"Some of the disorders and conditions we treat with these same medications are also associated with an increased risk for substance use disorder, such as anxiety disorders, sleep disorders and pain," he said.

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