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Teens and Prescription Drug Abuse

Teens and prescription drug abusePainkillers are the most abused type of prescription drugs by 16- to 17-year-olds, followed by stimulants, tranquilizers, and sedatives. 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.

In 2006, more than 2.1 million teens abused prescription drugs. Abusing these drugs can lead to addiction. Between 1995 and 2005, treatment admissions for abuse of prescription painkillers grew more than 300 percent. As more teens across the country are entering substance abuse treatment, they report taking these drugs because they are easy to access at home and other places and can be cheaper than street drugs.

Why Do Teens Abuse Prescription Drugs?

Teens also give other “practical” reasons for abuse of these drugs. For example, teens say they abuse prescription painkillers because:

  • They believe it is not illegal
  • There is less shame attached to using them
  • There are fewer side effects than street drugs
  • Because some parents “don’t care as much if you get caught”

Teens report many reasons for prescription drug abuse and over-the-counter (OTC) drugs. Like with street drugs, prescription and OTC drugs are often abused by teens to get high. This might be to party, to escape reality, to experiment or to relieve boredom.

But teens also say there are other reasons to abuse prescription drugs beyond just getting high:

  • Some teens say they abuse these drugs to help them cope. This mean managing stress, depression, or anxiety, and helping them relax.
  • Teens also report abusing prescription drugs to help them deal with pressures. For example, some teens say they abuse stimulants to help them do better in school by increasing alertness or concentration. Others report abusing stimulants to help control their weight.
  • Teens also report they are abusing these drugs to self-medicate in order to relieve pain or sleep better.

Types of Prescription Drugs Used by Teenagers

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 have abused Vicodin and more than five percent of seniors have abused OxyContin.

Other possible prescription drugs to be aware of and understand that your teenager could be using are:

  • Codeine
    • Like morphine, this is found in opium but is weaker in action than morphine and is used especially as a painkiller.
  • Fentanyl (and fentanyl analogs)
    • A man-made opioid painkiller similar to morphine that is administered as a skin patch or orally.
  • Morphine
    • This powerful, active ingredient of opium is used as a painkiller and sedative.
  • Opium
    • From the opium poppy, this was formerly used in medicine to soothe pain but is now often replaced by derivative alkaloids (as morphine or codeine) or man-made substitutes (opioids).
  • Hydrocodone
    • This is often combined with acetaminophen for use as a painkiller and can be found in drugs like Vicodin.
  • Oxycodone
    • This drug is a narcotic painkiller and can be found in drugs like OxyContin, Percocet and Percodan.

Signs and Symptoms of Prescription Drug Abuse

It can sometimes be hard for parents to tell if their teenager has a drug problem, some effects of prescription drug abuse are as follows. After all, teenagers are notorious for oversleeping, being argumentative, pushing boundaries and wanting their own privacy and space. If you suspect your teen has a drug problem, look for marked changes in behavior, appearance and health. Some signs and symptoms of prescription drug abuse:

  • Is your teen suddenly having trouble in school?
  • Do they seem more and more isolated or have a new group of friends?
  • A teen with drug problems may spend a lot of time sleeping- or be keyed up or unable to sleep.
  • Have you noticed that money or objects that could be sold for drugs seem to be disappearing?
  • Do prescription drugs seem to be used up too quickly?

Physical symptoms to look for that could indicate painkiller use include:

  • Drowsiness
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Apathy
  • Constriction of the pupils
  • Flushing of the face and neck
  • Constipation
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Respiratory depression

If a teen abuses painkillers for a period of time he can become addicted to the drug and experience withdrawal symptoms when he stops taking the drug. Associated with addiction is tolerance, which means more and more of the drug or a combination of drugs is needed to produce the same high or euphoric feeling, which could in turn possibly lead to overdose.

Prescription Drug Effects in Teenagers

Just a few of the many dangerous effects of drug use in adolescents include:

  • Drugs of any kind decrease teens’ ability to pay attention.
  • The younger a person is when they begin using drugs, the more likely they are to develop a substance-abuse problem and the more likely they are to relapse into drug abuse when trying to quit.
  • Juveniles who use drugs are more likely to have unprotected sex, sex with a stranger, as well as engaging in sexual activity at all.
  • Substance use can cause or mask other emotional problems like anxiety, depression, mood swings, or hallucinations (for example, hearing or seeing things). Either of those illnesses can result in death by suicide or homicide.

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Depending on how the body takes in and processes each kind of drug, substances of abuse can affect virtually every one of the body’s systems. Examples of this include permanent brain damage associated with inhalants, heart attack or stroke from stimulants, halted breathing from sedatives. Any of these problems can result in death.

Prescription Drug Abuse Help

If you or someone you know is struggling with a prescription drug addiction, we can help. Please call our toll free number at (888) 371-5714. We are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week to answer your questions on prescription drug addiction treatment.

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