Abuse of Prescription Drugs in Teenagers


Prescription drug abuse is on the rise with teens. Some teens abuse prescription medication at parties to feel high, some take them to deal with untreated mental health issues, such as anxiety or depression and some teens pop pills to concentrate better while studying. Many teenagers don’t understand the risks associated with abusing prescription medication, because it has been prescribed by a doctor.


According to Teens Health, one survey conducted by the National Survey on Drug Use and Health in 2006 found that 6 percent of teens ages 12 to 17 had used prescription drugs recreationally in the past month. Many teens wrongly believe that using prescription drugs is safer than using illegal drugs. Prescription drugs are a necessity in helping people who have mental health issues, such as ADHD and depression, who are recovering from surgery and experience regular pain. What many teens don’t realize is when they abuse prescription pills that haven’t been prescribed for them, they are putting their health at risk as if they are using illegal drugs.

Types of Drugs Abused

Some teens abuse opioids, such as OxyContin and Vicodin, which are medically used to treat pain. These medications work by preventing the brain from receiving pain messages, according to Teens Health. The Partnership for a Drug-Free America reports that one in five teens has abused a prescription pain medication. Another type of drug commonly abused by teens is depressants, such as Xanax and Valium, which are prescribed for anxiety, panic attacks and sleep problems. These drugs usually have a calming effect on the person who takes them. Opioids and depressants can be extremely addicting and habit-forming. One more category of drugs abused by teens is stimulants which are used to treat ADHD. Many teens abuse these drugs in order to concentrate, to stay up late studying or to lose weight.

Causes of Addiction

Some teens are more likely to develop a prescription drug addiction than others. There isn’t one definite cause of addiction or dependency, but some factors contribute to increasing the risk. These factors include a family history of abuse or addiction, mental health issues, such as depression, low self-esteem and aggression, according to Teen Drug Abuse.

Signs and Symptoms

Parents should take note of the signs and symptoms that their teen is abusing prescription drugs. These signs include a lack of personal hygiene, pills or pill bottles missing from the medicine cabinet, a drop in grades and other issues at school, an unexplained need for money, mood swings and changes in the teen’s personality.


Treatment for teen prescription drug abuse is comparable to treatment for other types of drug abuse. Treatment can include detoxification, rehabilitation, individual and family counseling, support groups and 12-step programs. Each teen’s treatment needs will be different and depend on what type of prescription drug she is abusing, if she’s dependent on the drug and other mental health issues, such as depression and bipolar disorder.

About this Author

Michelle Bolyn is a licensed mental health professional and has worked since 2006 as a therapist. Bolyn has been writing mental health, wedding-related and relationship focused articles since 2007. She is published on Suite101.com and Examiner.com. Bolyn received her Master’s Degree in Social Work from New York University.