Teens and Prescription Drugs
When taken as directed, prescription drugs can prevent and cure diseases. When used
without a prescription or in ways other than how they are supposed to be used, they
can cause serious physical and mental health problems.
A growing number of American teens are using prescription drugs to get high. Many
researchers think that prescription drug abuse is common. According to the Substance
Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, new substance abusers ages 12 and
older use prescription drugs more than any other illegal substance.
Some teens fake symptoms to get a prescription or take someone else’s pills. Some
mix medication with alcohol. Some take more than the recommended dose of their own
medication. Any of these examples of misuse can cause serious, even deadly results.
These include overdose, addiction, seizures, stroke, and cardiac arrest.
Many young people abuse prescription drugs because they believe they are safer than
street drugs and legal. They are wrong. These drugs can be just as dangerous if not
A risky activity among some teens is known as “pharming.” Teens trade and mix medications,
then take a mix of pills. This is often done along with alcohol or cough medicine
to get high. Some teens take several pills at a time. Others swallow them by the handful,
often not knowing which medications they are combining.
Prescription drugs are free and easy to find in parents’ medicine cabinets. Teens
can also get them from school friends who have prescriptions for them or who have
stolen them from relatives.
Another source where teens can get prescription drugs is on the Internet through illegal
websites that do not ask for a prescription or a medical exam. Other websites provide
information about how to get high using certain prescription drugs by themselves or
Many teens are unaware that getting prescription drugs online or on the street without
a prescription is illegal and can lead to arrest.
Reasons for use
Teens abuse prescription drugs for many reasons, including boredom, a desire to escape
their problems, or simply to get high.
What parents can do
Talking with teens about healthy ways to cope with their challenges can help them
deal with stress or unhappiness in positive ways.
If you believe your child could be using prescription medications for nonmedical reasons,
speak with your child's health care provider or a mental health professional. Prescription
abuse, especially if it involves addictive drugs, is hard for people to beat on their
own. Most abusers need the help of a substance abuse counselor.