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How Do Teens Get Prescription Drugs?

Depressed teenage boy with a pile of blue and orange pills in hand.  

Teen prescription drug abuse is a concerning trend that is on the rise. Teens using prescription drugs are resourceful and can find drugs at home or from friends. Parents play an important role in keeping prescription medication secure or hidden, and discussing the dangers of recreational prescription drug use with their teens.

It’s important to be aware of the trends and risks of teen drug use. Teens tend to underestimate the risks of prescription drug misuse. Using prescription drugs for a non-medical purpose can lead to serious consequences, including overdose or addiction.

Prescription Drug Abuse Among Teens

In general, prescription drug abuse among teens falls into three categories:

  • Pain medications like opioids
  • Sedatives for sleep or anxiety disorders
  • Stimulants, often known as “study drugs”

The statistics on teenage prescription drug abuse show that the likelihood of use increases in the later teen years. Estimates suggest that up to 11% of US adolescents have used prescription drugs for non-medical purposes. Pain relief medication such as opioids are among the most commonly abused. Using opioids in the teenage years is a risk factor for adult opioid misuse and can contribute to the opioid epidemic.

Certain risk factors are related to teenage prescription drug abuse. These can include other substance use, delinquent behavior, or having a mental health condition. While some research suggests that race, gender or income may be a factor, these findings are mixed.

Where Do Teens Find Prescription Drugs?

Depending on their environment, teens can have multiple options for where to get prescription drugs. It’s rare that teens source prescription drugs online or from a dealer. Prescription drugs are often easily available without teens having to seek them out. It’s important to know where teens usually get drugs so that parents, teachers or loved ones can talk to them about the risks.

At Home

If a parent or guardian is taking prescription medication, a teen may see this as a way to get free prescription drugs for recreational use. These drugs can be taken from home and used to get high or distributed to other teens.

From Friends

Peer pressure in adolescence is common, and having peers who use or support the use of drugs is linked with prescription drug abuse in teens. Having friends who use prescription drugs or struggle with addiction can make them more accessible, and make it seem normal or acceptable.

At School

Students may bring prescription drugs from home to take or distribute at school. Although possession of drugs on school grounds is forbidden, this is done in secret or outside school hours.

The Internet

Buying drugs on the dark web or on an online pharmacy without a prescription is not a common way for teens to source drugs. Social media may be used as a way to normalize drug use or to organize getting/taking drugs in person.

Teens Often View Prescription Drugs as Safe

Because prescription drugs are prescribed by doctors and are approved for medical use, teens can underestimate how dangerous prescription drugs are. They are unlikely to see prescription drugs to be as risky as illegal ‘street’ drugs. In some cases, a teen may be misusing their own prescription and may incorrectly believe that there are no risks from taking more of something that has been given to them by a doctor.

Teens who abuse prescription drugs can be at high risk for overdose since they may be taking drugs for the first time. Further, they generally have low tolerance and may be mixing them with other drugs or alcohol. Using drugs even once, particularly opioids, can result in overdose or death.

Finding Help for Prescription Drug Abuse

Prescription drug abuse in teens can have serious and long-lasting consequences. Getting off prescription drugs can be difficult and risky. Safely stopping prescription drug use should be supervised by a medical professional and may even require medical detox. Rehab programs for teens can offer comfortable, safe and age-appropriate care to support getting off prescription drugs and working towards long-term recovery.

Next Generation Village is located in Florida and has a range of teen drug rehab programs available. Center staff are available to provide treatment information or answer any questions you may have regarding treatment. Reach out to Next Generation Village today to start your recovery process.

Medical Disclaimer: Next Generation Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.


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