Many patients who use drugs on a recreational basis eventually become regular or daily users, according to a new study from Boston University’s School of Public Health and School of Medicine.
The study, led by professor of community health sciences Judith Bernstein, followed a group of 483 patients at Boston Medical Center. All of these patients reported using drugs in the previous month, some only on weekends and some on both weekends and weekdays. The researchers followed up with these patients six months later to see if their drug use habits had changed.
Weekend-Only Users Expand Use
They discovered that the majority of “recreational” or weekend-only drug users had expanded their drug use to include weekdays. Of those who initially reported weekend-only use, only 19.2 percent were still using drugs on a relatively infrequent recreational basis six months later. However, 54 percent of those who had been weekend-only users were now using drugs on other days of the week as well. In addition, 27 percent reported that they had not engaged in any drug use during the six-month period.
As a result of these findings, the authors of the study suggest that clinicians should be more wary of recreational drug use than they may have been in the past. Sometimes, recreational drug use is dismissed as a comparatively minor health concern. However, the results of this study show that recreational drug use may call for more careful monitoring because of how frequently it can develop into regular use.
Cocaine, Marijuana, Opioids Most Commonly Abused Drugs
Of course, there are also reasons to be concerned even with occasional drug use, particularly if clinicians are unaware of it. Recreational drug use can affect how diseases progress and can impact the way that medications behave. Unfortunately, many patients do not understand the risks and do not reveal their drug use to their doctors.
Among the patients who participated in the Boston University study, the most commonly abused drugs were opioids, marijuana and cocaine. The patients who had a weekend-only drug use pattern at the outset of the study were nearly twice as likely as other drug users to report cocaine as their primary drug and less likely to report marijuana as their primary drug.
Overall, the patients in the study who were already using drugs more regularly were more likely to increase the frequency their overall drug use than patients who were initially weekend-only users. Furthermore, they were just as likely to increase the severity of their drug use. Nevertheless, the authors of the study were most interested in the evolution of weekend-only users because it showed how frequently recreational drug use, which can be dismissed as only mildly concerning, may develop into a more serious health risk.
The study authors acknowledge that more research is necessary before the conclusions from this study can be applied to the general population. This study used a relatively small sample size and drew from patients who all had an inner city background and recent drug use history.
The results of this study were published in the May/June 2015 issue of the journal Annals of Family Medicine.