From watching the news or reading articles online, the fastest-growing drug problem in the United States might be heroin or methamphetamine use. Unfortunately, it is neither of these. The fastest-growing drug problem in our country today is prescription drug use. This rapidly expanding abuse of prescription drugs is having a profound impact on teens. Teen’s use of prescription drugs can have detrimental effects on health and can cause consequences that may be permanently life-altering. However, there is hope. Treatment is available and can even be done on an outpatient basis.
Defining Prescription Drug Abuse
Prescription drug abuse is when someone takes a medication prescribed for someone else, takes their prescription in a way not intended by a doctor, or takes medication to get high. Many drugs can be abused, but the most commonly abused classes of prescription drugs are:
- Opioids which are usually prescribed to treat pain
- Central nervous system (CNS) depressants used to treat sleep disorders and anxiety
- Stimulants which are most often prescribed to treat attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
Prevalence of Prescription Drug Abuse in Teens
After alcohol and marijuana, prescription drugs are teens’ most commonly abused substances. According to a national survey, 17.8% of high school students took a prescription drug (such as OxyContin, Percocet, codeine, Adderall, Ritalin, or Xanax) without a doctor’s prescription once or more in the past year. More than 5,700 youth in 2014 reported using prescription pain relievers without a doctor’s guidance for the first time.
Why Do Teens Abuse Prescription Drugs?
Like adults who use substances, there are also various reasons for teen substance use. Some of these reasons include the following:
- The misconception that prescription drugs are less harmful than illicit substances
- Self-medication for conditions like anxiety, depression, or insomnia
- Peer pressure
- Performance enhancement
- To get high or experiment
- Appetite reduction
- Modeling the behavior of parents, celebrities, or other admired public figures or social media influencers
The Dangers of Teen Prescription Drug Use
Many teens and even adults believe that prescription drugs are safer than illicit drugs, even with those prescription drugs being abused. This is a dangerous misconception to have because there are many dangers associated with teen prescription drug abuse, including:
- Teens who abuse prescription drugs are also at risk of impairing the physical development of their bodies.
- Misusing prescription drugs can impair judgment, leading to impulsive and risky behaviors that can put teens in danger.
- Prescription opioid use can lead to IV heroin use. It can also cause respiratory depression, coma, or even death.
- Even when prescribed, stimulants can pose many of the same dangers as cocaine and methamphetamine. For example, they can cause dangerously high temperatures, paranoia, hypertension, and tachycardia.
- Prescription depressants can cause teens to be at risk for slowed and shallow breathing, drowsiness, disorientation, and seizures upon withdrawal.
Along with these dangers, prescription drug abuse can even impair brain development. Our brains continue to develop until our early to mid-twenties. Drug use in adolescence can cause impairment in the development of the prefrontal cortex. This area of the brain is vital because it enables us to set priorities, formulate strategies, allocate attention, and control impulses. Abusing drugs can even fracture developing neural pathways. The pathways being reinforced as our brains are hardwired during adolescence are the ones that stick. If those hardwired pathways include addiction, it can lead to a lifetime of problems.
Warning Signs That Your Teen May Be Abusing Prescription Drugs
If your teen uses prescription drugs, they may try to hide it. However, there are often signs to look for, such as:
- Loss of interest in hobbies and previously enjoyed activities
- Sleeping more or less than usual
- Physical changes such as nosebleeds, weight loss or gain, tremors, bloodshot or watery eyes, and pupils larger or smaller than normal
- Hanging out with a new group of friends
- Engaging in behaviors like stealing and lying
- Breaking rules
- Social withdrawal
- Poor hygiene
- Changes in mood or attitude
- Track marks on arms or wearing long sleeves in the summer
How to Help Teens Who Are Using Prescription Drugs
If you suspect your teenager is abusing prescription drugs, you may be unsure what to do. Try to have an honest, nonjudgmental discussion with your teen and get them help as soon as possible. Sober Life can help your teen get sober while they remain home. This can minimize disruption in your teen’s life. Family programs like the one offered at Sober Life can help families and patients.
Our program provides education on how to care for yourself and your loved one. It also provides a safe space to unburden your mind and benefit from support from others who understand what you are dealing with. Substance use does not just affect the person who uses drugs. It also affects their families and friends. Family programs can help ensure a greater chance of treatment success for the patient by providing support and education to those in a patient’s support system.
Although getting and staying sober after using prescription drugs can be challenging, it is worth the effort. Your teen can regain mental and physical health and enjoy a happier, more fulfilled life.
Discovering that your teenager has a problem with prescription drug use can be shocking. It can leave you feeling lost and wondering what to do next. You must get your teen help as soon as possible, and Sober Life is here for you. We offer expert care in an outpatient setting so your teen can receive treatment with less life disruption compared to an acute inpatient or residential treatment. Take advantage of Sober Life’s outstanding family program if you want to learn skills to better support your teen and maintain healthy boundaries. Whether your teen needs partial hospitalization (PHP), intensive outpatient (IOP), or outpatient treatment, Sober Life can help. Call (619) 542-9542 to learn more.