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Research Summary

Prescription Drug Misuse Is More Common in Drinkers

Few studies have examined the relationship between alcohol consumption and nonmedical use of prescription drugs (NMUPD). To characterize this relationship, researchers analyzed data from 43,093 adults who had participated in a national survey on alcohol and related conditions.

  • Of the overall sample, 65% drank and 3% took a prescription drug (opioid, sedative, tranquilizer, or stimulant) for a nonmedical reason in the past year. Approximately 8% had an alcohol use disorder (AUD).
  • NMUPD was most common in subjects with past-year alcohol dependence (22%), followed by subjects with alcohol abuse only (8%), a heavy drinking episode* but no AUD (4%), neither a heavy drinking episode nor an AUD (2%), and abstinence (1%).
  • In adjusted analyses, the odds of NMUPD were significantly greater among drinkers than abstainers (e.g., odds ratios 1.7 for subjects with neither a heavy drinking episode nor an AUD and 18.2 for subjects with alcohol dependence).
  • The co-occurrence of AUDs and NMUPD was more prevalent among adults aged 18–24 years (42%) than among older subjects (24%).


This study showed that drinkers, particularly those with an AUD, were more likely than abstainers to use a prescription drug for a nonmedical purpose. As stated by the authors, these findings underscore the importance of thoroughly assessing prescription drug misuse while treating AUDs, especially among young adults.

R. Curtis Ellison, MD
*>=5 drinks in a single day for men,>=4 drinks for women


McCabe SE, Cranford JA, Boyd CJ. The relationship between past-year drinking behaviors and nonmedical use of prescription drugs: prevalence of co-occurrence in a national sample. Drug Alcohol Depend. 2006;84(3):281–288.