What Are The Peak Ages For Drug Addiction?

By McCarton Ackerman 11/15/16

Recent data examines the role that aging plays in the course of addiction.

What Are The Peak Ages For Drug Addiction?

Plenty of people view their 20s and early 30s as the peak of their life, but research has found it’s also commonly the peak of when drug addiction occurs.

The Akron Beacon Journal reported on data from Summit County in Ohio, which found that 20-somethings in the area were most likely to seek out publicly funded local drug treatment options. Over one-third of overdoses in the county occurred among adults ages 25-34 this year.

Jerry Craig, executive director of Summit County Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services, said that most of these addictions start out innocently enough with doctor-prescribed painkillers. But when the powerful withdrawal symptoms become too much, they often turn to exaggerating their pain levels when speaking with their doctor in order to obtain more medication, or illegally purchasing the drugs off the street. He also noted that drug addiction is a “progressive illness” that often worsens over time.

"The addiction gets deeper and deeper," Craig explained. "The consequences that land them in the system happen much later from the time they start experimenting."

Other findings have also suggested that many people “phase out” of addictions by the time they’re in their mid-30s. A March 2011 study, published in the journal Addiction, found that half of all people who qualified for an active drug addiction or alcoholism diagnosis in their teens or early 20s no longer did by the time they reached age 35.

But addiction age is also partly determined by the substance being used. A research project out of Boston College found that alcohol addiction lasted an average of 15 years and heroin addiction spanned about the same length. The average marijuana addiction lasted six years, prescription pill addictions typically spanned for five years and the average cocaine addiction was four years.

The initial age of drug use also plays a role. Data released in 2011 by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse shows that experimental drinking or drug use before age 18 leads to a 25% chance of becoming addicted before age 25, but those odds drop to just 4% if the substance use began later in life. Their findings are particularly troubling because they also noted that about 75% of high school students have used addictive substance including cocaine, alcohol and marijuana.

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.