As some common drugs of abuse - such as alcohol - become less popular among teens, the risk of prescription drug abuse is increasing.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, about 16.5% of teens report abusing prescription drugs at some point in life. Of those, 10.9% say they have done so within the past year and 4.9% say they have done so within the past month.

How Does Prescription Abuse Among Teens Start?

Teens who abuse prescription drugs are most likely to access them in their very own home from a parent or other relative with a valid prescription.

In a large number of cases, teens will take medication from a pill bottle without the intended user ever knowing about it. More rarely, a parent or sibling might provide a certain type of medication to a teen for reasons they feel are helpful - for example, a painkiller after a sports injury.

Whatever the case, prescription drugs can cause physical and psychological dependency just like street drugs can. It is very rare for a teen abusing prescription drugs to maintain access to another person's supply of medication for very long. Eventually, they need to seek the drug from others.

This can lead to a cycle of increasingly risky behaviors. Risk-taking may include stealing pills from others outside the home, seeking out street dealers to buy drugs, or even attempting to get a diagnosis for a condition that would normally include the drug as a course of treatment.

What Are the Signs of Prescription Drug Abuse Among Teens and Adolescents?

Signs of prescription drug abuse among children and teens vary significantly based on the drug being used. Parents and relatives should be aware of the types of medication used in the home as well as the possible signs of abuse or overdose.

There are three broad categories of prescription medication:


Stimulants have side effects similar to those of cocaine. Students may be drawn to them for use as "study drugs" that facilitate all-night study periods before major tests. Paranoia, high blood pressure, and irregular heartbeat are all possible side effects.

Signs of stimulant abuse among teens include:

  1. Seeming always "on the go," flitting from one task to another without completing them.
  2. Staying up and sleeping very late, which can include going to parties or to study groups.
  3. Signs like anxiety, paranoia, and unexplained weight loss may follow with regular use.


Opioids are most typically used as painkillers. They can be highly addictive and must be used with extreme caution even under a doctor's supervision, because they interfere with the parts of the brain that process rewards. Drowsiness, nausea, and slowed breathing are common effects.

Signs of opioid abuse among teens include:

  1. Difficulty concentrating on complex tasks, which may accompany declining grades.
  2. Changes in mood or behavior patterns, with an unusually relaxed or "flat" affect.
  3. Constricted pupils, slow breathing, "nodding off" or daytime drowsiness.


Depressants may be used for anxiety and a wide range of other conditions. They can cause slurred speech, fatigue, disorientation, and lack of coordination, which can make accidents more likely. Withdrawal can be dangerous, with a higher probability of seizures than other drugs.

Signs of depressant abuse among teens include:

  1. Changes in sleep patterns, including sleeping late and missing appointments.
  2. Withdrawal from activities outside of the home - athletics, hobbies, and jobs.
  3. Reduced reaction time, flightiness, memory loss - seeming "not all there."

If your child is abusing prescription drugs, a safe and supportive environment separate from bad influences can provide a new lease on life. To learn more, contact WinGate Wilderness Therapy.

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