Prescription Drug Misuse Across the Lifespan: A Developmental Perspective

  • Megan E. McLarnon
  • Sean P. Barrett
  • Tracy L. Monaghan
  • Sherry H. Stewart


The misuse of psychoactive prescription drugs, including opioids, sedatives, anxiolytics, and stimulants, is an issue of growing concern. Factors contributing to the increasing prevalence of prescription drug misuse are thought to include rising prescription rates, social acceptability of use, and lack of perceived harm from use. Prescription drug misuse is associated with a number of direct and indirect costs. Risks to the user include development of substance use disorders, overdose, and other adverse medical consequences. Medication misuse is also responsible for a sizable burden on the health care system. Despite the indications of a growing trend, the literature is far from conclusive regarding the correlates of prescription drug misuse. Existing research is characterized by inconsistency in how prescription drug misuse is operationalized. Depending on how misuseis defined, it may encompass a heterogeneous group of motivations for use with varying associated behavioral patterns. Another impediment to understanding prescription drug misuse is the tendency for this phenomenon to manifest in different ways across the lifespan. Studies have documented patterns of misuse in young people that differ strikingly from those in older adults. This chapter considers the misuse of psychoactive prescription medications using a developmental framework, focusing separately on adolescence and early, middle, and late adulthood. The implications for detection, prevention, and treatment of prescription drug misuse are discussed for each age group.


Prescription Drug Prescription Medication Stimulant Medication Middle Adulthood Postsecondary Student 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Megan E. McLarnon
    • 1
  • Sean P. Barrett
    • 2
  • Tracy L. Monaghan
    • 1
  • Sherry H. Stewart
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyDalhousie UniversityHalifaxCanada
  2. 2.Departments of Psychology and PsychiatryDalhousie UniversityHalifaxCanada
  3. 3.Departments of Psychiatry, Psychology, and Community Health and EpidemiologyDalhousie UniversityHalifaxCanada

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