Prescription drug abuse among teens is a growing problem in the US. Unfortunately, kids no longer have to go outside the home to find drugs to get high. The high is now as close as the family medicine cabinet. The rise of regular prescription drug use in the US has put far more potentially dangerous meds in front of teens and preteens.


Prescription drug abuse is when an adult or a teen (anyone really) uses medication that was not intended for them, meaning it was prescribed to someone else. Someone can also abuse a drug that is prescribed for them if they use it in a way not directed by the doctor or for a different reason. According to the National Institutes of Health: 

“After marijuana and alcohol, prescription drugs are the most commonly abused substances by Americans age 14 and older.”

In most circumstances when prescription drugs are used as prescribed by a physician or nurse, they can help the person taking the medications. However, when used in ways they are not intended for they can affect the body and the brain similarly to illegal drugs and a person can become addicted and be at risk for overdose.


Research has shown that there are three primary reasons adolescents turn to prescription drugs.

  • Peer Pressure: Even kids who are not interested in getting high can end up trying and abusing prescription drugs because of the pressure to fit in. During the teens years when kids are trying to find their place in society, what their peers think about them can override anything else in their life.
  • To Cope: The adolescent years are a confusing and challenging time. When you add in the addition pressure of trying to maintain a certain weight or GPA level teens can end up turning to what they think is a relatively safe help. After all, from their perspective, there is no needle, and prescription drugs are not illegal, so they are safer and easier to get. Talk to your teen about the stresses they may be experiencing.
  • Experimentation: There is also the group that wants to push boundaries and experiment with anything they can get access to. Prescription drugs are relatively easy to get and can give you a similar high to the illegal stuff.


Regularly misused drugs:

  • Opioids, which are pain relievers like OxyContin, Vicodin, and codeine
  • Depressants, which are often used to relieve anxiety or help with sleep include Valium and Xanax
  • Stimulants, which are used to treat ADHD and ADD include Adderall and Ritalin

If you think your teen may be abusing prescription drugs, it is a good idea to have a conversation with them. If it is significant enough to need outside help, we are happy to be a resource for you. There are also additional resources out there including therapists and counselors.