Teen Abuse of Prescription Drugs a growing Trend

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Teen Abuse of Prescription Drugs

A Growing Trend

Abuse of prescription drugs not prescribed for the teen taking them is a growing trend in the United States. Reports say abuse is growing as many teenagers believe prescription drugs are not as dangerous as illegal drugs. Studies show that approximately 1 out of every 5 teenagers has taken prescription drugs not prescribed for them. This trend spans across geographic, racial, ethnic and socioeconomic populations. (The Partnership at Drugfree.org, 2010)

Teens are reportedly abusing prescription drugs in order to increase energy and ability to focus, to cope with stress, and to lose or gain weight. Risks include addiction, overdosing, exhaustion, confusion, abnormal heart rhythms, and psychosis if teens become addicted and experience withdrawal. Learning to rely on drugs to cope with stressors at a young age can establish a lifelong pattern of dependency, and

prevents learning healthy coping skills. There are three main types or classes of drugs most commonly being abused.

Study Drugs

A 2013 study from the University of Michigan reported “Study Drugs” as types of stimulant medications or amphetamines typically prescribed for the treatment of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). It was found that sometimes students without ADHD take these drugs in order to stay awake or improve test scores. It was also found that parents’ awareness of teen use of such “study drugs” does not match self-reported use by teens. (University of Michigan, 2013)

Stimulant drugs include Ritalin, Concerta, Dexedrine and Adderall. As a result of taking these medications non-medically, an individual may experience a feeling of euphoria. Stimulants can increase blood pressure, heart rate, and blood glucose levels. Repeated abuse of stimulants can lead to feelings of hostility, paranoia, and even psychosis. There is also potential for heart failure and seizures.

Prescription Pain Medications

Opioids are medications typically prescribed to relieve pain. These medications include Vicodin, OxyContin, Percocet, morphine and related drugs. When these drugs are taken for any reason other than the reason prescribed, even a single large dose can cause severe difficulty breathing and death. Long-term use of opioids can lead to dependence and addiction. Withdrawal symptoms may occur if use of these drugs is suddenly reduced or stopped. Symptoms can include restlessness, muscle and bone pain, insomnia, diarrhea, vomiting, cold flashes and involuntary leg movements. These medications should not be taken with other substances, to include alcohol or benzodiazepines. (NIDA, 2010)

Anti-anxiety drugs

Benzodiazepines are part of the class of drugs known as central nervous system (CNS) depressants. These drugs are commonly referred to as sedatives or tranquilizers. These are typically

Teen Abuse of Prescription Drugs

prescribed to treat anxiety and

sleep disorders. Benzodiazepines

in particular include Valium and Xanax, which are sometimes prescribed to treat anxiety and panic attacks. Usually these medications are not prescribed for long-term use because of the risk of dependence or addiction. In addition, using CNS depressants with other substances such as alcohol can affect heart rhythm, slow respiration, and even lead to death. (NIDA, 2010


The National Institute on Drug Abuse’s (NIDA) Monitoring the Future (MTF) survey in 2010 found that approximately 1 in 12 high school seniors reported past-year nonmedical use of the prescription pain reliever Vicodin, and 1 in 20 reported abusing OxyContin. This makes these medications among the most commonly abused drugs by adolescents. In this same survey, when asked how prescription drugs were obtained for non-medical use, more than half of the 12th graders surveyed said

They were given the drugs or bought them from a friend or

relative. Adolescents and young adults who abuse prescription medications are also more likely to report use of other substances such as cigarettes, alcohol, marijuana, cocaine and other illicit drugs.

Efforts to prevent teen substance abuse should begin early in life. Typically by age 9, your child will have opinions about substance use. So start early to help your child learn the skills needed to avoid substance abuse. Parents should stay connected with their children, share information in order to educate, and encourage healthy behaviors. Positive self-esteem, a supportive family, and positive role models help teens gain confidence to make good choices. Even though they may not act like it, most children listen to what their parents tell them.

• Be a positive role model.

• Know your teen's friends.

• Set times when the family is expected to be together.

Be fair and consistent, setting reasonable consequences for unacceptable behavior.

Praise your teen for his or her successes.

• Encourage meaningful activities that increase self-esteem.

• Get informed. Learn how drugs work, what their street names are, and what the signs of being under the influence are.

• Talk about personal and legal consequences, including how some consequences can last a lifetime.

• Safeguard your own medications. Keep a pill inventory and dispose of medications properly.


• Article: Prescription for Danger, Current Events, 3/5/2007, Vol. 106 Issue 20, p4-5.

• Article: One in ten teens using “study drugs”, but are parents paying attention?, C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health, Vol. 18, Issue 3, May 20, 2013/ The University of Michigan

• National Institute on Drug Abuse’s (NIDA) Monitoring the Future survey, 2010: http://www.drugabuse.gov/sites/default/files/rrprescription.pdf

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