While drugs, alcohol and firearms do not mix well, new research finds that among some young adults the three may often go together.
Emerging adults who carried a firearm in the past year were more likely to misuse substances such as hallucinogens, prescription medications or cocaine, and to drink heavily, according to a new study from The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston.
The results of the study, which come from surveying a group of over 600 emerging adults aged 18 to 22, are published in the journal Injury Prevention.
Jeff Temple, lead author of the study and an associate professor in UTMB’s department of obstetrics and gynecology, said the connections between risky behaviors such as drug use or alcohol abuse and firearms are not well documented.
“Guns by themselves are not necessarily harmful but when mixed with risky behavior, such as substance abuse, there is the strong potential for negative outcomes,” Temple said.
Firearm violence is the leading cause of death for Black males from 15 to 34 years of age, the second leading cause for White and Hispanic males aged 15 to 34, and the second leading cause of death for Black females aged 15 to 24.
The study found that 6 percent of those surveyed said they carried a firearm for some reason other than sport or hunting. The majority of those who said they carried a firearm said they did so for protection.
According to the study results, use of cocaine, hallucinogens, methamphetamine, ecstasy and prescription medication in the past year, as well as episodic heavy drinking in the past month, were all associated with increased likelihood of carrying a firearm.
Robert Buschmann, the study’s first author and a graduate student at UTMB, said there could be a number of different reasons for the link between substance use and carrying a firearm including a tendency for risky behaviors to cluster together. Other factors, such as negative childhood experiences, such as bullying, poor social conditions or personality traits, such as impulsivity, could all also play a role in both the carrying of firearms and substance use and abuse.
This potentially lethal combination is a serious issue that warrants further study, Temple said.
“We also want to know more about how people are accessing guns, and whether illegal acquisition – for example, stealing or buying from a dealer – is more likely to be associated with other risky behaviors,” Temple said.”
Other study authors include John Prochaska and Jacques Baillargeon.