Alcohol and illegal drug abuse have long been connected to violence in romantic and non-romantic relationships. New research from the University’s Injury Center adds prescription drug abuse to the mix, drawing a connection between dating violence in youth and abuse of prescription sedatives and opioids.

Most young people who abuse prescription drugs do not discern a connection between their drug use and any subsequent violent behavior. Young men and women reported violence occurred because of bad moods, jealousy or as part of an argument, rather than as the result of prescription drug abuse

Lead researcher Quyen Epstein-Ngo, a fellow at the Injury Center and a researcher at the Institute for Research on Women and Gender, said the prescription drugs might be a factor in whether an argument turns violent.

“Without the alcohol or prescription drugs involved, they simply might walk away from a potentially violent situation,” Epstein-Ngo said in a press release.

In a study funded by the National Institutes of Health and an Injury Center grant, Quyen and five other authors from the center analyzed data from the Flint Youth Injury Study, in which 575 participants aged 14 to 24 reported both the use of sedatives and opioids as well as instances of violent conflict over a 12-month period.

In 1,262 violent incidents, substance use occurred immediately prior to the conflict 44 percent of the time. Quyen said it is important that the research focused on the immediacy of the drug use prior to the reported violence.

In the study, men were more often associated with non-dating violence, while women were linked more closely with dating violence.

“Our findings indicate that interventions that address violence among youth should address substance use and psychological factors, as well as be tailored by type of violence — dating versus non-dating — and by gender,” Epstein-Ngo said.

Based on their research, the study’s authors emphasized a need to help teens cope with conflict and anger, as well as understand the possibility of escalation when combined with drug use.

In an interview, Quyen said there is plenty of opportunity to expand upon the research.

“In the future, we hope to look more at how digital dating violence occurs, and how social media and things like cellphones and texting are playing roles in dating aggression as well.”

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