Weekend-only drug use frequently slips into weekday drug use, study says

Study suggests that people who try to limit their drug use to weekends only often fail

Beware, weekend ragers: A new study suggests that people who use drugs only on the weekends frequently begin using them on weekdays too.

In a paper published Monday in Annals of Family Medicine, researchers report that 54% of people who said they restricted their drug use to Friday night, Saturday or Sunday admitted to using drugs on other days of the week as well, when questioned again in six months. 

"The study shows us that patterns change," said lead author Judith Bernstein,  a professor of community health sciences at Boston University School of Public Health. "Only 19% of people who originally said 'I use on weekends' still used only on weekends."

Not all the weekend-only drug users went to more frequent drug use over the six-month period, however. According to the paper, 26.9% of the original weekend-only drug users said they were abstaining from drugs entirely when asked about their drug use half a year later.

The new study is based on data collected from 483 primary care patients at Boston Medical Center who admitted during a primary care visit to using drugs in the past month. The patients were mostly male and African American, and the authors describe them as "typical of an inner city population with recent drug use." It should be noted, however, they were showing up for regular care, not drug care. 

Of the 483 participants in the study, 431 (89%) said they used drugs on weekdays and weekends, while just 52 (11%) said they used drugs on weekends only. 

When the patients were questioned again about their drug use six months later, both groups reported a similar amount of increase in drug use and more than half of the weekend-only group were now using drugs on the weekdays too, Bernstein said. 

According to the authors, their research suggests that primary care physicians should follow up on patients' self-reported drug use even if it seems simply "recreational." 

"When I was working in clinical care I would have patients say, 'I just use drugs on the weekend' or 'I'm just a recreational user' as if that doesn't matter so much," said Bernstein. "I think clinicians need to understand a little more than perhaps they do now how these patterns change over time."

She added that today, when a patient tells a doctor that he or she is using drugs on the weekend, the doctor usually does not note it as a problem, and is unlikely to ask about changes in drug use in subsequent visits.

Bernstein would like to see that change, especially because changes in drug use can interfere with the effectiveness of medications for blood pressure or diabetes. 

"The real message of this paper is a monitoring message," she said. "Drug use is not static, so drug use is something you might want to monitor on a regular basis."

 Science rules! Follow me @DeborahNetburn and "like" Los Angeles Times Science & Health on Facebook.

 

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