Prescription Drug Abuse Among Teens


The colors are lovely, the shapes delightful, their dangerous allure is magical. The results can be deadly.

They are medications that can be readily found in most medicine cabinets across America, the medications that can be life-saving when used properly by the person for whom they are prescribed. The medications that are impairing and are even killing increasing numbers of young people.

A decade-or-so ago, parents of teenagers might have been concerned about their teens pilfering from the family’s liquor cabinet or stealing beer from the refrigerator. While alcohol abuse and illegal drug abuse continue to be serious problems among teens, the number of adolescents using prescription drugs improperly has become a national problem. The 2000 National Household Survey on Drug Abuse (NHSDA) tells us that 10.9 percent of 12- to 17-year-olds have reported nonmedical use of a psychotherapeutic drug at least once during their lifetime, and the Partnership for a Drug-Free America reports that one in five teens has abused a prescription pain medication, and one in five has abused prescription stimulants and tranquilizers. Further, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) reports that every day, 2,500 youth, ages 12 to 17, abuse a prescription pain reliever for the very first time.

These medications, which are relatively easy to obtain from one of the many online pharmacies or through theft from relatives or friends, provide young people with an easily-accessible and inexpensive means of altering their mental and physical state. Abusers may experience a variety of effects from these medications, such as a heightened sense of pleasure, increased energy, drowsiness, or other effects, depending upon the drugs they have consumed. Young people who abuse prescription drugs put themselves at risk of experiencing dangerous side effects. Prescription drugs, when taken as prescribed by a physician, can effectively treat a variety of mental or physical conditions. They can, however, alter the brain’s activity and chemistry and can lead to serious debilitating or life-threatening health problems. Additionally, there is the risk of physical or psychological dependence.

Young people do not fully understand that prescription and some over-the-counter drugs, if used outside doctor’s orders, can be every bit as lethal as illicit street drugs. They often see them as “medicine” and believe that because the drugs have come from a white-coated pharmacist rather than a street-corner dealer they will experience a pleasurable and safe “high”, and that once the effects have passed, they can return to normal and everything will be as it should be. The use of these drugs is often described as “recreational”, further making the use of such drugs appear harmless.

Parents should pay attention to quantities of medications in their cabinets and are advised to safely discard any leftover medication to prevent its use and abuse. It’s also extremely important that parents learn about medications that kids commonly abuse and talk with their teens about the dangers of taking prescription medications not prescribed for the teen. Some signs that your teen may be abusing prescription drugs include:

§ Change in sleeping patterns

§ Loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities

§ Emotional instability

§ Bloodshot eyes

§ Slurred or agitated speech

§ Change in friends or peer group

§ Prescription medication missing

§ Unusual containers or wrappers

There are many other indications that a young person might be using medications improperly. The Partnership for a Drug-Free America has valuable information for parents and others concerned about adolescent substance abuse at their web site at It’s vitally important that parents become knowledgeable about and pay attention to the warning signs that their teens might be engaged in this form of drug abuse.

The colors are lovely, the shapes delightful, their dangerous allure is magical. The results can be deadly.

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