Teenage Prescription Drug Abuse

Back to Brochures

Lori overheard her parents talking about how her brother's ADHD medicine was making him less hungry. Because Lori was worried about her weight, she started sneaking one of her brother's pills every few days. To prevent her parents from finding out, she asked a friend to give her some of his ADHD medicine as well. 

Brandon found a bottle of painkillers that had been left over from his dad's operation. He decided to try them. Because a doctor had prescribed the pills, Brandon figured they'd be OK to try. 

Sean's friend, Michael, brought a small box of pills to school. He told Sean that they were harmless so Sean took some because he wanted to be cool like Michael's other friends. 

These youngsters are taking huge risks. 

Why Do Teens Abuse Prescription Drugs? 
Some young people experiment with prescription drugs because they think they will help them to have more fun, lose weight, and study more effectively. Or, like Sean, they just want to feel cool and accepted. 

Some teenagers think that prescription drugs are safer and less addictive than street drugs. To Lori, taking her brother's ADHD medicine seemed to be a good way to keep her appetite in check. She'd heard how bad diet pills can be, and she wrongly thought that the ADHD drugs would be safer. But, prescription drugs are only safe for the person who actually has a prescription for them. That's because a doctor has prescribed the right dose of medication for a specific medical condition. 

The doctor has also said how the medication should be taken, including things to avoid while taking the drug, such as drinking alcohol, smoking, or taking other medications. 

Other teens who try prescription drugs are like Brandon. They think they're not doing anything illegal because these drugs are prescribed by doctors. But, taking drugs without a prescription or sharing a prescription drug with friends is just as illegal as taking street drugs. 

Which Prescriptions Are Commonly Abused? 

  1. Opioids - Examples: oxycodone (OxyContin), hydrocodone (Vicodin), and meperidine (Demerol) 
  2. Central Nervous System (CNS) Depressants - Examples: pentobarbital sodium (Nembutal), diazepam (Valium), and alprazolam (Xanax) 
  3. Stimulants - Examples: methylphenidate (Ritalin) 
    and amphetamine/dextroamphetamine (Adderall)

Over the Counter (OTC) Medications 
Some young people mistakenly think that OTC medications are safer than prescription drugs. But it's possible to abuse or become addicted to OTC medications, too. When someone takes the amount recommended on the label, it is usually safe. But, high doses can cause confusion, stomach pain, and hallucinations. 

What Are the Dangers of Abusing Medications? 
Teens who abuse medications often have trouble at school, at home and with friends. The likelihood that someone will commit a crime, be a victim of a crime, or have an accident is higher when abusing drugs no matter whether those drugs are medications or street drugs. 

Opioid abuse can lead to mood changes, decrease in ability to think, and even decreased respiratory function, coma, or death. This risk is higher when prescription drugs like opioids are taken with other substances like alcohol, antihistamines, and CNS depressants. 

Abruptly stopping or reducing CNS depressants can lead to seizures. Taking CNS depressants with other medications, such as prescription painkillers, cold and allergy medications, or alcohol can slow a teenager's heartbeat and breathing, and can even kill. 

Abusing stimulants (like some ADHD drugs) may cause heart failure or seizures. These risks are increased when stimulants are mixed with other medicines like certain cold medicines. Taking too much of a stimulant can lead to a dangerously high body temperature or an irregular heartbeat. Taking several high doses over a short period of time may make a teenager aggressive or paranoid. 

Ritalin may seem harmless because it's even prescribed for little kids with ADHD. But, when a teenager takes it in a way it was not intended to be used such as snorting or injection, Ritalin toxicity can be serious and lead to death. Teenagers who abuse medications can become addicted just as easily as if they were taking street drugs and withdrawal can be dangerous when it's not monitored. 

Signs of Teenage Substance Abuse: 

  • displays slurred speech, has bloodshot eyes, persistent runny nose or coughing. 
  • displays sleeplessness, agitation or abrupt flare-ups of anger and irritability. 
  • displays periods of depression, hyperactivity, drowsiness, or forgetfulness. 
  • has a significant drop in school grades, attendance, or work performance. 
  • no longer obeys curfews, causes discipline problems, arguing, lying and irresponsibility. 
  • displays isolation, secrecy and lack of involvement in family activities or with friends. 
  • alcohol, medication, money or possessions are disappearing from the home.

What Can You Do? 

  • talk honestly with your kids about the harmful consequences of substance abuse. 
  • if abuse is acknowledged or otherwise verified, contact the St. Alexius Employee Assistance Program for guidance and support.