It can be easy to believe that prescription drug use is not as bad as other drug use—c’mon, doctors prescribe them, right? Wrong. Prescription drugs are prescribed to individuals for a reason. If taken without a prescription from a doctor, prescription drugs can be very dangerous to your emotional and physical health. Teens who abuse prescription drugs can be addicted just as easily as if they were abusing other drugs, such as nicotine or alcohol. The most common result of prescription drug abuse is addiction.
If you or a loved one struggles with prescription drug abuse and would like more information, give us a call at YouthLine and we would love to talk to you and give you some helpful resources. 1-877-968-8491
Probably the most common result of prescription drug abuse is addiction. People who abuse medications can become addicted just as easily as if they were taking street drugs. The reason many drugs have to be prescribed by a doctor is because some of them are quite addictive. That’s one of the reasons most doctors won’t usually renew a prescription unless they see the patient — they want to examine the patient to make sure he or she isn’t over using the medication.
Some people think that prescription drugs are safer and less addictive than street drugs. After all, these are drugs that moms, dads, and even kid brothers and sisters use. For example, a girl might think that taking her brother’s ADHD medicine would be a good way to keep her appetite in check, while avoiding the bad and harmful diet pills she had heard of. What this girl may not realize is that taking ADHD drugs are not any safer…
Prescription drugs are only safe for the individuals who actually have prescriptions for them. That’s because a doctor has examined these people and prescribed the right dose of medication for a specific medical condition. The doctor has also told them exactly how they should take the medicine, including things to avoid while taking the drug — such as drinking alcohol, smoking, or taking other medications. They also are aware of potentially
Prescription Drug (Rx) Abuse
Painkillers are drugs commonly prescribed for pain and are only legally available by prescription.
Painkiller abuse can be dangerous, even deadly, with too high a dose or when taken with other drugs, like alcohol. Short-term effects of painkiller abuse may include lack of energy, inability to concentrate, nausea and vomiting, and apathy. Significant doses of painkillers can cause breathing problems. When abused, painkillers can be addictive.
Brand names include: Vicodin, Tylenol with Codeine, OxyContin, and Percocet.
Are Teens Abusing Painkillers?
Painkillers like OxyContin and Vicodin are the prescription drugs most commonly abused by teens. In fact, within the past year nearly one in 10 high school seniors has abused Vicodin and more than five percent of seniors have abused OxyContin.5
Painkillers are also the most abused type of prescription drugs by 16- to 17-year-olds, followed by stimulants, tranquilizers, and sedatives.6 Almost two out of five teens report having friends that abuse prescription painkillers and nearly three out of 10 report having friends that abuse prescription stimulants.7
Depressants, or downers, are prescribed to treat a variety of health conditions including anxiety and panic attacks, tension, severe stress reactions, and sleep disorders. Also referred to as sedatives and tranquilizers, depressants can slow normal brain function.
Health risks related to depressant abuse include loss of coordination, respiratory depression, dizziness due to lowered blood pressure, slurred speech, poor concentration, feelings of confusion, and in extreme cases, coma and possible death.
Brand names include: Klonopin, Nembutal, Soma, Ambien, Valium, and Xanax.
Are Teens Abusing Depressants?
Depressants such as sedatives and tranquilizers have been growing in popularity among teens. In 2007, six percent of high school seniors reported abusing depressants including Valium and Xanax, compared to four percent in 1995.7
Stimulants, or uppers, are most commonly prescribed for attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), but they are also used to treat a variety of conditions such as asthma, respiratory problems, obesity, and sleep disorders such as narcolepsy. When taken in higher doses, these drugs can produce euphoric effects and counteract sluggish feelings.
Health risks related to stimulant abuse include increased heart and respiratory rates, excessive sweating, vomiting, tremors, anxiety, hostility and aggression, and in severe abuse, suicidal/homicidal tendencies, convulsions, and cardiovascular collapse.
Brand names include: Concerta, Dexedrine, and Ritalin.
Steroids are used to medically treat people with abnormally low testosterone levels or symptoms of body wasting, as is the case with cancer patients. Abuse of steroids is often related to physical appearance, such as a desire to build muscle or change body shape.
While health effects vary by individual, they can include liver cysts and cancer, kidney cancer, jaundice, severe acne, and hair loss.
Over-the-Counter Drug Abuse
Teens are abusing some over-the-counter (OTC) drugs, such as cough and cold remedies, to get high. Many of these products are widely available and can be purchased at supermarkets, drugstores, and convenience stores. Many OTC drugs that are intended to treat headaches, sinus pressure, or cold/flu symptoms contain the active ingredient dextromethorphan (DXM) and are the ones that teens are using to get high. When taken in high doses, DXM can produce a “high” feeling and can be extremely dangerous in excessive amounts.
Over-the-counter drug abuse also occurs with laxatives, diuretics, emetics, and diet pills, as teens try to achieve an idealized weight.1 Young people may start taking just a few diet pills but then graduate to full addiction and dependence. Ephedrine, caffeine, and phenylpropranolamine are just some of the dangerous and addictive substances found in diet pills. Herbal, sometimes referred to as “natural”, weight loss products can be just as dangerous as diet pills. All of these substances act as stimulants to the central nervous system and much like speed, can have serious and potentially fatal side effects.2
Is your teen using OTC drugs to get high?
A recent study found that six percent of 12th graders reported past year abuse of cough or cold medicines to get high.3 That amounts to about one in every 16 high school seniors.
Signs and symptoms of abuse may include:
Impaired judgment, nausea, loss of coordination, headache, vomiting, loss of consciousness, numbness of fingers and toes, abdominal pain, irregular heartbeat, aches, seizures, panic attacks, psychosis, euphoria, cold flashes, dizziness, and diarrhea.4
Addiction, restlessness, insomnia, high-blood pressure, coma, or even death.5
Where do teens get them?
In many parts of the country, teens can easily buy OTC cough and cold remedies at any supermarket, drugstore, or convenience store where these products are sold. They can also get them from home, or order them over the Internet. And even if they do not order OTC drugs online, they can surf the Web to find information and videos on what drugs to try and mix together.
Find out more information about where teens get OTC drugs.
How do teens abuse OTC drugs?
Teens take large doses to get high, sometimes mixing these drugs with prescription drugs, street drugs, or alcohol. Some teens crush pills and snort them for an intensified effect.
Could your teen overdose on OTC drugs?
Yes. The point at which teens may overdose on OTC drugs varies depending on the amount of the drugs they took, over what time period, and if other drugs were mixed. Some OTC drugs are weak and cause minor distress, while others are very strong and can cause more serious problems or even death. If you suspect your teen has overdosed on OTC drugs, take them to the emergency room or call an ambulance immediately for proper care and treatment by a medical doctor.
Other drug and alcohol interactions
Mixing alcohol with certain medications can cause nausea and vomiting, headaches, drowsiness, fainting, and loss of coordination. It can put users at risk for internal bleeding, heart problems, and difficulties in breathing. Alcohol also can decrease the effectiveness of many needed medications or make them totally ineffective.
Some of these medications can be purchased over the counter – at a drugstore or grocery store – without a prescription, including herbal remedies and others you may never have suspected of reacting negatively with alcohol.
Before you or your teen take any prescription or OTC medication, carefully read the label, and/or consult with your family physician or local pharmacist. And never mix medications with alcohol. Parents should set clear rules and consistently enforce those rules against any underage drinking.
Want to hear more from other youth who know what you’re going through? Check out our blog posts on Prescription Drugs.