Prescription drugs are beneficial when used appropriately to treat illness or relieve pain; however, using these drugs inappropriately is extremely dangerous. Prescription drug abuse and addiction is a growing problem for all ages, but an estimated 90 percent of addictions begin during the teen years. Because their brains are still maturing, adolescents are more susceptible to developing a drug-dependency.
As a parent, you may be wondering what’s causing more and more teens to risk such behavior and how you can prevent your own kids from participating.
Why Prescription Drugs?
The abuse of prescription drugs is largely attributed to availability. Unlike illegal drugs such as cocaine or heroine, prescription drugs can be found in home medicine cabinets. In fact, about 70 percent of teens abusing prescription drugs are believed to obtain them from family members or friends. This accessibility has resulted in staggering statistics showing prescription drugs to be the most commonly used among 12 to 13 year olds.
In addition to availability, some teens use prescription drugs because they believe it’s legal. The truth of the matter is that the possession of any prescription medication without a doctor's consent is very much illegal. These drugs also receive significantly less negative attention than illegal drugs.
People assume that because doctors prescribe these medications, they’re safer than other drugs, but ingesting them without knowing their exact origin, dosage or side effects can make them just as dangerous as any other drug.
Most Commonly Abused Drugs
For teens, the most commonly abused prescription drugs are pain relievers, such as Vicodin, anti-depressants, such as Xanax and Valium and stimulants, such as Adderall and Concerta. Besides being easily accessed, each of these drugs often has a unique reason for abuse.
Pain relievers and anti-depressants increase production of the brain chemical dopamine, creating a feeling of euphoria, while stimulants are typically used to improve concentration or reduce fatigue.
Typically painkillers are prescribed for parents following surgeries or injuries, but anti-depressants and stimulants are sometimes prescribed to teens themselves. While the patients themselves may need the drugs, many are willing to give or sell the extra pills to friends. Taking these drugs unnecessarily can cause harsh side effects, including seizures, kidney damage or failure, brain damage, heart palpitations and in severe cases, cardiac arrest.
Even with high accessibility, there are several things you can do to encourage your teens to refrain from prescription drug abuse.
- The first step is simply talking to them about the dangers, noting that they’re every bit as harmful and illegal as other drugs.
- Research shows that teens involved in activities they enjoy are less likely to abuse drugs or alcohol, so encourage involvement in extracurricular activities, such as clubs or sports.
- It’s also important to set the example for your teens by limiting your own prescription drug use as much as possible. If you are taking medication, make sure to explain to your kids that you follow strict guidelines and only take that which your doctor prescribed.
- Studies show that teens whose parents teach them the dangers of prescription drugs are up to 50 percent less likely to abuse them. Chances are your teen listens and follows your example a lot more than you think…even if they’ll never admit to it.
"The majority of drug abuse starts at home with drugs that come from the medicine cabinet." Hyatt recommends participating in pharmacy drug take-back days to discard unneeded medications.
-Craig Hyatt, pharmacist and father of four teens