Popping Pills: What You Need to Know About Teen Prescription Drug Abuse

Why Do Teens Abuse Pills?

An estimated 50 percent of teens in the US have experimented with drugs at least once before the age of 18. More than 2 million kids in the 12-17 age range admit to using drugs recreationally in the last month. While 33 percent of high school students use prescription medications to manage a health condition, some 64 percent of teens say they got them from friends or a family member’s home.

What is Teen Prescription Drug Abuse?

Teen prescription drug abuse is the misuse of both controlled and over-the-counter medications as a means to get high. It is increasingly common among teens because of the ease of access and concealment of such substances. Misinformation and a false sense of invincibility also perpetuate the growing prescription drug abuse trend; teens believe that because a drug is prescribed it’s safer than alternatives, or that they aren’t as vulnerable to the consequences of drug abuse as their peers. Both of these mentalities can be incredibly dangerous, especially when teen drug abuse goes unaddressed.

Why Do Teens Use Prescription Drugs?

Much like with their adult counterparts, teen prescription drug abuse can begin in any number of ways, including:

  • Misuse of a prescribed painkiller after an injury, surgery, or illness
  • Experimentation spurred on by peer pressure
  • Self-medication to numb or escape emotional turmoil
  • Substance use as a means of boosting school or athletic performance
  • Mirroring addictive behaviors in the family or home environment
  • Partaking in hard partying behaviors

Understanding how teen prescription drug abuse begins is only one part of the puzzle. Too often teen drug and alcohol use is downplayed as ‘not that serious’ or ‘a right of passage.’ In reality, teen substance use can easily lead to a lifetime struggle with addiction and other consequences.

What You Need to Know About Teen Prescription Drug Abuse

Getting your teen the help they need to overcome teen drug abuse begins with having a full understanding of the risks and dangers associated with prescription drug abuse. Here are a few facts you need to know.

Stimulants are one of the most common drugs of choice for teens. In some cases this begins with a prescription to treat certain conditions like ADHD or narcolepsy. Because these medications produce the desired effect of greater alertness, ability to focus, and reduction of disruptive symptoms, some teens may feel encouraged to use them more than necessary. They may also seek out the pills from peers to give themselves an edge during stressful situations like during finals or when playing sports. However, despite their common medicinal application, stimulant drugs can cause serious side effects when misused. This includes:

  • paranoia
  • irritability and mood swings
  • hyperthermia
  • heart palpitations
  • high blood pressure or low blood pressure
  • Loss of appetite and weight loss (stimulants are sometimes used for this purpose)

Teens may be more vulnerable to the serious side effects of stimulant abuse, including overdose, because they don’t fully understand the danger they face.

Opioids are a leading contributor to the ongoing substance abuse epidemic, especially among young people. Prescription opioid painkillers can be highly addictive, producing powerful effects and quickly leading to physical dependence. Because of how opioids interact with the brain and central nervous system, excessive use or long-term abuse can cause biochemical and physical changes to the body. This is especially dangerous for teens whose brains are still developing. Artificially elevated levels of dopamine and serotonin impact the natural production of these ‘pleasure hormones’, causing depression, flattened affect, and inability to experience happy, positive emotions. Moreover, opioid overdose is the leading cause of death for people under 50 in the United States. As much as no parent wants to even consider that possibility, teens are not immune to these potentially deadly reactions.

Depressants are also a type of prescription drug teens may abuse. As the name suggests, these medications are used to reduce the central nervous system’s response to certain stimuli. While depressants are primarily used to treat conditions like epilepsy and anxiety disorders, they may be misused to achieve desired effects. Depressants, also called downers, tranqs, or benzos, can leave a user in an almost zombie-like state with the potential to cause dangerous side effects up to and including seizures and comas.

How to Address Your Child’s Substance Use

If you suspect your child is using drugs or alcohol, or your suspicions have been confirmed, your next steps are crucial. Responding too rashly or from an emotional place can do more harm than good and drive your child further away from the help they need. It’s important to recognize that teen substance use is most often a symptom of a deeper lying issue that needs to be addressed. Substance use is often a means of self-numbing or masking other struggles; there is no healing the problem without getting to those roots. No amount of lecturing, stricter parenting, or other punishment will ever solve teen prescription drug abuse. Instead, it will teach them not to trust you and to be sneakier about their activities, potentially leading to life-altering consequences.

Your first step in fixing your teen’s prescription drug abuse is to take a deep breath. There are resources available that can help guide you and your family in making the right decisions to help your child recover and succeed.

At Safe Landing Recovery we understand how terrifying it can be to discover your child is using drugs. We’re here to help. Our team of compassionate adolescent behavioral health specialists can help you understand how teen addiction works, how it forms, and what you can do to support your child’s recovery. Our approach to treatment is comprehensive and individualized to ensure each client gets the dedicated attention they need to address their unique circumstances.

Our family-oriented treatment programs keep you informed and involved in every stage of the recovery process. This includes weekly progress reports and family counseling to tackle problems within the family dynamic that may contribute to teen substance use. We also support your child’s education through virtual schooling and SAT/ACT prep while your child is in our care. Our support extends beyond completion of treatment with an active and robust alumni support network for both you and your child.
You don’t have to deal with this on your own. For more information about Safe Landing Recovery including how we can specifically help you, call us now.


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