Prescription Drug Abuse Linked to Risky Sexual Behavior

Recent research from a team of American scientists indicates that certain groups of young people have increased chances of participating in risky sexual behavior while improperly using a prescription medication. Young adults in the U.S. have a relatively high level of involvement in the inappropriate consumption of prescription, mind-altering medications. In a study published in January 2015 in the Journal of Sex Research, researchers from four U.S. institutions gauged the impact that prescription drug misuse has on the odds that a young adult will take part in a risky sexual behavior capable of causing harm to self or others. These researchers concluded that certain demographic groups of young people are unusually likely to engage in dangerous sexual activity while under the influence of an improperly used prescription drug.

Young Adults and Prescription Drug Misuse

Adults, teenagers and preteens across America are most likely to misuse/abuse four types of prescription medication, according to year-to-year figures compiled by the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). These four medication types are opioid-based substances classified as painkillers or pain relievers, sedative-hypnotic substances classified as tranquilizers, amphetamine-based and non-amphetamine-based stimulants (especially products designed to treat attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder or ADHD) and sedative-hypnotic substances classified as sedatives. Opioids are by far the most common target for inappropriate intake; in fact, opioid medication misuse occurs more often in any given month than the combined misuse of the other three substance types. In terms of age, young adults in their late teens or early 20s maintain a higher rate of prescription drug abuse than any other segment of American society. In the last year with fully available SAMHSA figures (2013), adults between the ages of 18 and 25 had an overall monthly prescription abuse rate of 4.8 percent. In that same year, young adults in their late teens or early 20s abused opioid painkillers or pain relievers at a monthly rate of 3.3 percent. This rate is nearly 100 percent higher than the rate of inappropriate opioid medication consumption found in the general U.S. population over the age of 11.

Risky Sexual Behavior

Researchers, doctors and public health officials use the term risky sexual behavior (or the alternate term unsafe sex) to describe any form of sexual behavior that increases a person’s chances of doing such things as contracting a sexually transmitted infection from someone else, passing on a sexually transmitted infection to someone else, experiencing an unwanted or unplanned pregnancy or unintentionally getting someone pregnant. In addition to having sex while under the influence of drugs, medications or alcohol, recognized forms of risky sexual activity include having sex without a condom and using sex as a form of trade for drugs or other goods or services. While public health officials often emphasize risky sexual behavior among teenagers, adults also participate in such behavior with considerable frequency.

Prescription Drugs and Young Adults’ Sexual Behavior

In the study published in the Journal of Sex Research, researchers from Purdue University, the Center for HIV Educational Studies and Training and two branches of the City University of New York used the assistance of 402 people between the ages of 18 and 29 to help determine the strength of the connection between prescription drug misuse and the odds that any given young adult will engage in risky sexual behavior. All of the study participants were known misusers of at least one type of prescription medication. The researchers separated these participants into groups based on such demographic factors as age, gender, racial/ethnic ancestry, self-identified sexuality, marital status and parental socioeconomic standing. For each person, the researchers also assessed the level of general involvement in risky sexual behavior, as well as the level of involvement in such behavior while under the influence of an improperly used prescription drug. The researchers concluded that more than 75 percent of the study participants had recently had sex without a condom. They also concluded that almost 50 percent of the participants had recently engaged in sex while using/misusing a prescription medication. When the researchers examined the intersection of these two groups, they concluded that almost 33 percent of the participants had unprotected sex while under the influence of a prescription drug. Finally, the researchers identified several young-adult demographic groups most likely to misuse prescription medications and have unprotected sex. These groups include the youngest adults, people with Caucasian racial/ethnic ancestry, men with a heterosexual identity and people whose parents have high socioeconomic standing.

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