Prescription Drugs: Abuse Among Teens

There’s currently a drug epidemic sweeping the country. Significant parts of the northeast, the Midwest, and Pacific coast of the United States are battling drug addictions, primarily addictions to heroine. One reason behind the heroine addiction epidemic is the crackdown on prescription drugs. Heroine is a more accessible and less expensive drug.


Despite the crackdown on prescription drugs, abuse of these drugs among teens continues to be at an alarming rate. Every day in the United States, an average of 2,000 teenagers use prescription drugs without the consent of a physician. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) has found that among teens between the ages of 12 to 17 years old, 14.8% reported nonmedical use of prescription drugs in the last year. Also, according to NIDA’s Monitoring the Future Survey, prescription and over-the-counter drugs were the fifth most commonly abused drug by 12th graders. Drugs abused more than prescription drugs were alcohol, marijuana, synthetic marijuana, and tobacco.


Prescription drugs are those that teens get a hold of and use in a way other than how they are prescribed. This way of taking prescription drugs is considered abuse. Additional research indicates that 20% of teens that have abused prescription drugs reported that they did so before the age of 14. Also, 33% of teens believe that using prescription drugs not prescribed to them is okay. They believe that abusing prescription drugs is safer than abusing illicit drugs such as cocaine. However, the abuse of these drugs, particularly by at-risk youth can easily lead to irreparable consequences.


One of the risks to using prescription drugs is that it can lead to the use of other drugs. For instance, with opioids – one type of prescription drug – NIDA found that teens have commonly combined various drugs when using them. A recent study covering the years 2002-2006 indicates that 7 out of 10 adolescents who are using opioids for non-medical purposes have combined opioids with other drugs and/or alcohol in the last year. Marijuana (58.5% of teens surveyed) and alcohol (52.1% of teens surveyed) were the most common drug to be combined with opioid use, followed by cocaine (10.6%), tranquilizers (10.3%), and amphetamines (9.5%). Other results of the study include:


  • Teens who reported taking opioids with other drugs were 8 times more likely to report abusing marijuana than non-users of opioids.
  • Teens who reported taking opioids with other drugs were 4 times more likely to report being drunk than non-users of opioids.
  • 24% of teens reported that they usually or always combined the non-medical use of opioids with marijuana.
  • 15% of teens reported that they usually or always combined the non-medical use of opioids with alcohol.


The most common prescription drugs that are abused among teens include opioids (such as hydrocodone, oxycodone, and morphine), depressants (such as Xanax and Valium), and stimulants (such as Concerta and Adderall). The side effects of opioids include drowsiness, constipation, difficulty breathing, and depending on the amount taken, opioid use can even cause death. Because of the effect that opioids have on breathing, they should not be taken with alcohol or other medication that slows breathing down even further.


The side effects of taking depressants, such as Valium include slower brain activity, uncoordinated sensation, and a feeling of euphoria. For some teens, the high is similar to getting drunk, and it’s a high that alcohol only enhances. Long-term abuse of Valium can be severe including memory loss, hallucinations, difficulty breathing, slowed pulse, and comatose state. Lastly, the side effects for stimulants include sleep problems, decreased appetite, delayed growth, headaches, and moodiness.


The treatment for those who are addicted will need to undergo clinical, supervised detoxification in order to manage the withdrawal symptoms. However, an addiction to opioids is similar to an addiction to heroin. Research has shown that the best combination of treatment for both these addictions include medication, such as methadone, to manage the withdrawal symptoms, as well as therapy to address the behavioral and psychological issues that contributed to the addiction in the first place.


Long lasting treatment includes creating a new lifestyle in which different daily choices are made, creating a strong support system, and examining the thoughts and behaviors that might be contributing to the cycle of addiction.




NIDA for Teens. “Drug Facts. Prescription Drugs.” Retrieved on June 5, 2014 from: