Did you know?

Prescription drug abuse among teens is a significant problem affecting communities nationwide. Results from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)’s 2012 Monitoring the Future survey of teen drug use showed a number of worrying issues:

  • Nonmedical use of prescription drugs remains high, while teens’ perception of the risk of such abuse is low.
  • 14.8% of high school seniors used a prescription drug for nonmedical reasons or one that was not prescribed for them in the past year.
  • After alcohol, tobacco, and marijuana, prescription and over-the-counter medications account for most of the top drugs abused by 12th graders in the past year, with Adderall and Vicodin being the most commonly abused prescription drugs.

Prescription drug abuse is when someone takes a medication that was prescribed for someone else or takes their own prescription in a way not intended by a doctor or for a different reason—like to get high.
It has become a big health issue because of the dangers, particularly the danger of abusing prescription pain medications.
For teens, it is a growing problem:

  • After marijuana and alcohol, prescription drugs are the most commonly abused substances by Americans age 14 and older.
  • Teens abuse prescription drugs for a number of reasons, such as to get high, to stop pain, or because they think it will help them with school work.
  • Most teens get prescription drugs they abuse from friends and relatives, sometimes without the person knowing.

Boys and girls tend to abuse some types of prescription drugs for different reasons. For example, boys are more likely to abuse prescription stimulants to get high, while girls tend to abuse them to stay alert or to lose weight.

When prescription drugs are taken as directed, they are usually safe. It requires a trained health care clinician, such as a doctor or nurse, to determine if the benefits of taking the medication outweigh any risks for side effects. But when abused and taken in different amounts or for different purposes than as prescribed, they affect the brain in ways very similar to illicit drugs.

When prescription drugs are abused, they can be addictive and put the person at risk for other harmful health effects, such as overdose (especially when taken along with other drugs or alcohol). And, abusing prescription drugs is illegal—and that includes sharing prescriptions with family members or friends.

Commonly Abused Prescription Drugs

There are three kinds of prescription drugs that are commonly abused:

  • Opioids—painkillers like Vicodin, OxyContin, or codeine
  • Depressants—like those used to relieve anxiety or help a person sleep, such as Valium or Xanax
  • Stimulants—like those used for treating attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), such as Adderall and Ritalin

To find out what other parents are doing to prevent teen prescription drug abuse, visit NIDA’s PEERx initiative.