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Teens and Prescription Drugs

When taken as directed, prescription drugs can prevent and cure diseases. When used without a prescription or in ways other than how they are supposed to be used, they can cause serious physical and mental health problems.

A growing number of American teens are using prescription drugs to get high. Many researchers think that prescription drug abuse is common. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, new substance abusers ages 12 and older use prescription drugs more than any other illegal substance.

Some teens fake symptoms to get a prescription or take someone else’s pills. Some mix medication with alcohol. Some take more than the recommended dose of their own medication. Any of these examples of misuse can cause serious, even deadly results. These include overdose, addiction, seizures, stroke, and cardiac arrest.

Many young people abuse prescription drugs because they believe they are safer than street drugs and legal. They are wrong. These drugs can be just as dangerous if not taken correctly.

Dangerous doses

A risky activity among some teens is known as “pharming.” Teens trade and mix medications, then take a mix of pills. This is often done along with alcohol or cough medicine to get high. Some teens take several pills at a time. Others swallow them by the handful, often not knowing which medications they are combining.

Open market

Prescription drugs are free and easy to find in parents’ medicine cabinets. Teens can also get them from school friends who have prescriptions for them or who have stolen them from relatives.

Another source where teens can get prescription drugs is on the Internet through illegal websites that do not ask for a prescription or a medical exam. Other websites provide information about how to get high using certain prescription drugs by themselves or in combinations.

Many teens are unaware that getting prescription drugs online or on the street without a prescription is illegal and can lead to arrest.

Reasons for use

Teens abuse prescription drugs for many reasons, including boredom, a desire to escape their problems, or simply to get high.

What parents can do

Talking with teens about healthy ways to cope with their challenges can help them deal with stress or unhappiness in positive ways.

If you believe your child could be using prescription medications for nonmedical reasons, speak with your child's health care provider or a mental health professional. Prescription abuse, especially if it involves addictive drugs, is hard for people to beat on their own. Most abusers need the help of a substance abuse counselor.