Prescription drugs are dispensed by doctors, so they must be safer to take than street drugs such as cocaine and marijuana, right? Unfortunately, many young people operate under this common misconception. In fact, abusing prescription drugs can be as dangerous and addictive as abusing illegal street drugs. Drugs that are prescribed by doctors are for targeted uses only and must be used according to the doctor’s instructions to avoid harmful side effects. Anyone who tells you it is safer to take prescription drugs to get high is misinformed.
According to a 2008 SAMHSA study, over 2,000 kids a day ages 12 to 17 abuse prescription drugs for the very first time. Over two million kids report abusing prescription drugs in a given year, and these drugs are abused by kids at a higher rate than any illicit drug other than marijuana. A recent study of 12-year-old adolescents found that prescription drugs were their drugs of choice. While these statistics are staggering, prescription drug abuse has yet to be sufficiently integrated into efforts to educate adolescents and teens about the dangers of drug abuse. You are probably up to your ears in messages regarding the dangers of street drugs, alcohol and smoking but know relatively little about the dangers of popping pills that weren’t prescribed for you.
Right now, adolescent and teen prescription drug abuse is a silent epidemic. The lack of information targeted to younger age groups coupled with how easy it is to obtain prescription drugs from family and friends sends the message that there is no real danger. In fact, young people are experiencing life-threatening side effects from using prescription drugs in the wrong way and exposing themselves to potential physically and psychologically addictive substances. According to a study by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, young people who start off abusing prescription medication are more likely to report subsequent abuse of illegal street drugs, alcohol and cigarettes.
If you have been experimenting with prescription medications and fear you may have a problem, we can help you and your family find the right prescription drug treatment options to get you back on the right track. Have a parent or guardian call us at to speak to a treatment advisor.
What Is Prescription Drug Abuse?
Prescription medication is regulated by the government because these drugs can be extremely dangerous and pose a number of risks if used improperly. Only the person whose name is on the prescription is allowed to take the medication. This is because a doctor has determined that the prescription drug will be safe and effective for a specific individual’s condition. Anyone who gives you prescription medication that is not prescribed for you by a doctor is committing an illegal act.
Abuse of prescription drugs not only involves taking medications that are not prescribed for you. It can also involve taking your own medications in ways that the doctor did not instruct. This includes taking a prescription drug in higher doses or more frequently than advised by your doctor.
What Types of Prescription Drugs Are Commonly Abused?
Adolescents and teens report that it is very easy to obtain prescription drugs. Your parents, grandparents and other family members probably leave their medications in the bathroom, kitchen or bedroom, within easy reach of the rest of the family. It has probably never occurred to them that you would think of taking their medication. Some kids who do not take prescription medication themselves will sell the medication to others.
The most common types of prescription drugs that are abused by young people include the following:
- Stimulants, such as Ritalin, Dexedrine and Concerta, that are prescribed for ADHD and asthma
- Painkillers, such as OxyContin, Codeine, Vicodin and Tylenol, that are prescribed for temporary or chronic pain
- Depressants, such as Soma, Xanax and Valium, that are prescribed for anxiety and sleeping disorders
What’s the Big Deal?
Prescription drugs can be habit-forming and can cause physical and psychological dependence and addiction. Furthermore, when a prescription drug is being abused, it can cause dangerous side effects or result in an overdose. If you abuse a prescription drug for an extended length of time, you may experience highly uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms when you try to stop.
Abusing a prescription painkiller, for example, can cause physical addiction in a short amount of time, and common side effects include nausea, lack of energy, lack of concentration and apathy. Prescription depressants slow down your respiratory system and blood pressure, so abuse can cause you to stop breathing and lead to a coma. Common side effects of abusing depressants include loss of coordination, poor concentration, dizziness and slurred speech. Stimulants, such as Ritalin, can cause you to have an anxiety attack, and because these sorts of drugs speed up your heart rate, you can experience a heart attack or go into convulsions. Common side effects include aggression, suicidal or homicidal tendencies, vomiting, tremors and excessive sweating.
Are There Special Risks for Adolescents and Teens?
Young people are still growing. Your body is constantly changing, so you can eventually become a healthy adult. Prescription drugs are chemical compounds. When you introduce them into your system, you change the way your body processes information. Abuse of certain types of prescription drugs can have a significant effect on adolescent and teen brain development, while other drugs can damage organs, such as your kidneys.
Additionally, young people with a family history of alcohol or drug abuse are particularly susceptible to developing addictions from prescription drug abuse. If you have questions about prescription drug abuse, need help understanding the dangers involved in the abuse of a particular prescription drug, have experimented in the past, or are currently addicted to a prescription drug, help is just a phone call away. Call us at to discuss treatment options with one of our advisors. The call is confidential and free.