A Systematic Review of Risk and Protective Factors Associated With Nonmedical Use of Prescription Drugs Among Youth in the United States: A Social Ecological Perspective

J Stud Alcohol Drugs. 2015 Jan;76(1):5-20.


Objective: The purpose of this study was to identify the strongest and most consistent risk and protective factors associated with nonmedical use of prescription drugs (NMUPD) in multiple contexts, specifically in community-, school-, interpersonal-, and individual-level domains.

Method: A literature search was conducted to review studies published from 2006 to 2012 that examined NMUPD among adolescents. Included were original research studies that focused specifically on risk and protective factors or review articles that included a section on factors associated with NMUPD. Risk and protective factors were included only if a minimum of two methodologically sound research studies reviewed the variable.

Results: A variety of risk and protective factors were associated with adolescent NMUPD. At the community level, evidence suggested that ease of access increased the risk of NMUPD. Parental and peer prescription drug use and approval of NMUPD were associated with misuse of prescription drugs within the interpersonal domain. At the school level, academic failure/low educational attainment was associated with high school student NMUPD. However, results for college students' academic failure and NMUPD were inconclusive. At the individual level, previous use of substances was found to be a significant risk factor for NMUPD, as was adolescent aggressive/delinquent behavior and lower [corrected] perceived risk or harm of use.

Conclusions: NMUPD is a serious concern among adolescents and emerging adults. Several areas exist for prevention efforts within the context of the community, school, interpersonal, and individual domains. Thus, to curb NMUPD, multifaceted approaches are needed that target factors across multiple domains.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adolescent Behavior
  • Adult
  • Humans
  • Peer Group
  • Prescription Drug Misuse / statistics & numerical data*
  • Prescription Drugs / administration & dosage*
  • Protective Factors
  • Risk Factors
  • Students
  • Substance-Related Disorders / epidemiology*
  • United States / epidemiology


  • Prescription Drugs