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Preventing Prescription Drug Abuse Among Teens

Teen girl holding glass of water about to take a prescription pain pill  

Teen prescription drug abuse is a major problem in the United States. The use of prescription drugs is the third most common type of substance use among teenagers, behind alcohol and marijuana. The reason for this is most likely due to the availability of prescription drugs in homes and at school. The abuse of prescription drugs puts teenagers at risk of developing an addiction. There are certain things that parents, teachers, and other role models in teenagers’ lives can do to aid in the prevention of drug abuse in teens.

Teens and Prescription Drugs

Statistics on teenage prescription drug abuse show that 15.5% of twelfth graders have misused prescription drugs in their lifetime as of 2018. The most commonly used prescription drugs by teens are opioids and amphetamines. These drugs can have detrimental effects on teenagers, whose brains and bodies are still developing. Teens who misuse drugs during this time are putting themselves at risk for permanently altering the circuits in their brains and increasing the chances of struggling with addiction later in life.

Teens Often View Prescription Drugs as Safe

One of the reasons for prescription drug abuse among youth is that teens view prescription drugs as safe. Since the medication is prescribed by a doctor, a figure they see trustworthy, they may think that prescription medications cannot be bad for you. They may not consider that prescription drugs need to be used at certain doses or on a certain dosing schedule. Many prescription medications are highly addictive if they are not taken as prescribed. Therefore, teen drug use, even of prescription medications, can lead to teen addiction.

Where Are Teenagers Getting Prescription Drugs?

The most commonplace for teenagers to get prescription drugs is at home. If parents use prescription drugs that are commonly used to get high and are not monitoring the amount they have, teenagers can get ahold of them. It is also possible for a teenager to be prescribed a drug but then use more of it than they should or use it in a way other than prescribed, such as snorting it.

The other commonplace for teenagers to get prescription drugs is at school. When other teens get drugs from home or are prescribed drugs, they may take them to school to give to their friends or classmates. Most schools have implemented prescription drug monitoring programs where medications with the potential for addiction are kept in the nurse’s office and only distributed by the nurse.

It is also possible to buy prescription drugs online without a prescription. There are websites that sell prescription drugs, as well as forums where teens can get in contact with people who sell them illegally. Monitoring teen internet use may help to clue parents in about their teenagers obtaining prescription medications in this manner.

How to Prevent Prescription Drug Abuse

Parents of teenagers or teachers who interact with adolescents regularly can take steps to minimize the use of prescription drugs by teens. Some tips on how to prevent prescription drug abuse include:

  • Communicate: It is important to talk to teens about drugs. Studies have shown that communicating with kids and starting that communication early leads to a decreased chance of developing a substance use disorder later on. Parents should also be good role models for their teenagers and only use prescription medications as prescribed.
  • Get rid of old prescriptions: If there are prescription drugs around the house that are not being used anymore, it is best to get rid of them rather than risk someone taking them for recreational purposes. One way to safely dispose of prescription drugs is to participate in the national prescription drug takeback day, where law enforcement agencies set up collection sites to gather unused prescription drugs.
  • Monitor prescriptions: If someone is actively taking prescription medications that could potentially be used recreationally, keeping them in a safe place and monitoring the number of pills are both good ways to prevent use by teens. Using a prescription safe with a code that is only known by the adults in the house is also a good way to prevent teenagers from accessing prescription drugs.
  • Ensure that relatives hide their prescriptions: Another way that teens can access drugs is by stealing prescription drugs from a family member. If a parent suspects that this might be the case with their teenager, they can ask family members to hide their prescription drugs when the teen is at their house.
  • Know your teen’s friends: Who a teenager chooses to spend time with will have a huge influence on the choices they make. Knowing your teen’s friends can give you a clue as to whether or not their friends are involved in drug use. Chances are, if their friends are using drugs, they will be tempted to as well.
  • Monitor internet and phone use: Teens may use the internet to search for what a certain pill does or what a safe dose of a pill might be. By monitoring their home internet activity, parents might be able to detect this behavior and take the opportunity to talk to their teenagers about the dangers of prescription drug use. Social media can also influence drug use by making drug use seem commonplace or attractive. Teens may also use social media to communicate about getting drugs or parties where they will use them. Monitoring social media use can also give parents clues as to whether or not their teenager might be using drugs.
  • Intercept deliveries to home: Some websites provide prescription drug delivery. Often, these sites do not require a prescription. If a parent notices their teenager getting unusual packages or packages the parent is not expecting, the parent could choose to intercept the delivery and check what their teenager is receiving.

Finding Help for Prescription Drug Abuse

A teenager that is misusing prescription drugs may show symptoms of drug abuse. The signs of drug use in teens include:

  • Losing enthusiasm for activities they were once excited about
  • Being easily irritated or hypersensitive
  • Unexplained absence from classes
  • Sudden change in the grades they receive
  • Changing their friends unexpectedly
  • Decline in personal hygiene
  • Physical symptoms such as constricted pupils, trouble breathing, slurred speech, nausea or vomiting, flushed skin, chest pain or irregular heartbeat
  • Psychological symptoms such as developing anxiety or having delusions

If you fear your teen has developed a substance use disorder or you are a teenager struggling with substance use, Next Generation Village can help. We have rehab for teens that provides individualized care for substance use disorders. Contact a representative today to take the first step toward getting the help you need.

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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