Teenage Prescription Drug Abuse

Teenage Prescription Drug Abuse: Facts, Myths, and Statistics

Prescription drug abuse is on the rise, and in the United States, the misuse of prescription opioids was recently declared an epidemic.[1] After marijuana and alcohol, prescription drugs are the most commonly abused drugs among Americans aged 14 and older.[2]

Prescription drug abuse among teens is an important issue in schools today, and in order to help students, it is first important to understand why teens abuse these drugs, how they obtain them, and the dangers associated with their misuse.

What Is Prescription Drug Abuse?

Prescription drug abuse is any use of a prescription medication unintended by the prescribing doctor.[3] This can include use by someone to whom the medication was not prescribed, as well as the misuse of the medication by the person to whom it was prescribed. Common reasons for the abuse can include taking the medication to relieve real pain, as a study aid, or simply to get high. The recreational use of these drugs can lead to physical dependence and addiction, even in teens. In fact, addiction usually begins when a person is young.[4]

Myths, Debunked

Many teens abuse prescription drugs with the belief that they are safer than illegal drugs, and do not pose as much of a health concern. In reality, taking prescription medications without a doctor’s guidance poses serious health risks, including addiction, and even death.[5]

Because a medical professional prescribes them, it can seem like prescription drugs are safe, however, doctors take important health concerns into account before prescribing medications, including a person’s weight to determine dosage, other medications the patient is using that might react poorly with the prescription and possible side effects.[6]

A common misconception among teens is that sharing prescription medications is legal, and therefore has less severe consequences than underage drinking or marijuana use. In reality, teens should know that it is just as illegal to take medications that are not prescribed to them as it is to drink underage or use any other illegal “street drugs.”[7]

Another widespread teen prescription drug abuse myth is that these illicit prescription drugs are purchased from dealers on the street. For the majority of teens, this is untrue – seven in ten teens steal, buy, or simply ask for prescription medication from family or friends who were legally prescribed these medications by a physician.[8]

Prescription drug abuse among teens is often normalized, and many teens believe that many of their peers are using prescription drugs recreationally. In reality, only one in every five teens admits to having taken medications not prescribed to them.[9] While this is a large number, it is not a majority.

Prescription Drug Abuse Statistics: The Numbers

With a few of the most common myths surrounding teenage prescription drug abuse dispelled, here are the facts:

Abuse and misuse of prescription drugs starts early: the average age for first time nonmedical prescription drug use is 13-14.[10] Among teens who abuse opioid medications, seventy percent of them combine the pills with other substances, the vast majority with either marijuana or alcohol.[11]

However, many teens who abuse and misuse prescription drugs do not do so with the intent of getting high. The most abused category of medications is amphetamines, followed by tranquilizers, then opioids, and finally sedatives, according to a 2016 study by the National Institutes of Health.[12]

Among teens, fifty percent believe that prescription drugs are a safer option than other illegal drugs.[13] And, more than before, teens are less educated than they were in prior years on the dangers of prescription medicine misuse – teens today believe that there are fewer risks associated with prescription drug abuse than teens in 2009.[14]

Why Teens Use Prescription Drugs

The most common motive among teens that misuse prescription drugs is their use as a studying tool, with one in four teens believing that prescription drugs not prescribed to them can be used as a study aid.[15][16] Amphetamines with brand names such as Adderall, Ritalin, and Concerta are often prescribed to teens diagnosed with ADHD as a necessary drug to help them function normally in school. But, because so many teens are prescribed these medications and have safe and legal access to the drugs, it is easy for those who are not prescribed the medications to procure them from friends.

Though studying is the number one reason that teens claim to use prescription drugs, a lower GPA is associated with teen abusers.[17] Teens also misuse prescription drugs for other reasons, and these reasons differ among boys and girls. Boys are more likely to abuse medications in order to get high, while girls are more likely to use them to study and to lose weight.[18]

Several risk factors can contribute to a teen’s likeliness to abuse drugs or alcohol.[19] These include:

  • • Depression
  • • Low self-esteem
  • • Aggressive behavior
  • • Social isolation and rejection
  • • Low supervision at home
  • • Poverty
  • • Easy access to drugs in home or among friends

If one or more of these risk factors is present in a teen, it is especially important that they are properly educated on the dangers of prescription drug abuse, and to provide proper support if the child is already struggling with the issue.

Identifying Teen Prescription Drug Abuse in Your Community

Teen prescription drug misuse is a widespread problem facing adolescents in communities across the nation, and in order to help them avoid or stop their misuse and abuse, it is first important to understand the extent of the problem and the perceptions surrounding it. Educators and administrators can learn more about prescription drug abuse in their communities through the use of surveys, which provide critical insight into teens’ motives, habits, and attitudes towards the issue.

At Pride, we offer scientifically reliable survey products that can help your school identify and address how prescription drug abuse affects your students. Ready to learn about your options? Give us a call at or contact us online to find out why you should partner with Pride for your student surveying needs.

[1]“Understanding the Epidemic.” Retrieved May 23, 2017, from https://www.cdc.gov/drugoverdose/epidemic/

[2]“Prescription Drugs.” Retrieved May 23, 2017, from https://teens.drugabuse.gov/drug-facts/prescription-drugs

[3]“Prescription Drug Abuse.” Retrieved May 23, 2017, from http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/prescription-drug-abuse/basics/definition/con-20032471

[4]“What to Do If Your Teen or Young Adult Has a Problem with Drugs.” Retrieved May 23, 2017, from https://www.drugabuse.gov/related-topics/treatment/what-to-do-if-your-teen-or-young-adult-has-problem-drugs

[5]“Q&A on Prescription Drugs.” Retrieved May 23, 2017, from http://headsup.scholastic.com/teachers/straight-talk-on-prescription-drugs-worksheet

[6]“Appropriate Prescribing of Medications: An Eight-Step Approach.” Retrieved May 26, 2017 from http://www.aafp.org/afp/2007/0115/p231.html

[7]“Prescription Drugs Fast Facts.” Retrieved May 26, 2017 from https://www.justice.gov/archive/ndic/pubs5/5140/5140p.pdf

[8]“Myth Busters: 6 Myths about Teens and Prescription Drug Abuse.” Retrieved May 22, 2017, from http://www.bemedwise.org/documents/TAP2009_MythBusters.pdf

[9]Ibid.

[10]“Prescription Drug Abuse Statistics.” Retrieved May 22, 2017, from http://www.drugfreeworld.org/drugfacts/prescription/abuse-international-statistics.html

[11]“Teens Mix Prescription Opioids with Other Substances.” Retrieved May 23, 2017, from https://www.drugabuse.gov/related-topics/trends-statistics/infographics/teens-mix-prescription-opioids-other-substances

[12]“Monitoring the Future 2016 Survey Results.” Retrieved May 22, 2017, from https://www.drugabuse.gov/related-topics/trends-statistics/infographics/monitoring-future-2016-survey-results

[13]“Prescription Drug Abuse Statistics.” Retrieved May 22, 2017, from http://www.drugfreeworld.org/drugfacts/prescription/abuse-international-statistics.html

[14]“Teen Influencer Workshop.” Retrieved May 23, 2017, from http://www.bemedwise.org/abuse-prevention/teen-influencer

[15]“Prescription Drugs.” Retrieved May 23, 2017, from https://teens.drugabuse.gov/drug-facts/prescription-drugs

[16]“Prescription Drug Abuse Statistics.” Retrieved May 22, 2017, from http://www.drugfreeworld.org/drugfacts/prescription/abuse-international-statistics.html

[17]“Prescription Drug Abuse Statistics.” Retrieved May 22, 2017, from http://claad.org/rx-drug-abuse-stats/

[18]“Prescription Drugs.” Retrieved May 23, 2017, from https://teens.drugabuse.gov/drug-facts/prescription-drugs

[19]“Narconon International.” Retrieved May 23, 2017, from http://www.narconon.org/blog/drug-addiction/study-finds-most-alcohol-drug-abuse-starts-teen-years/



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