There are countless fears that parents experience in raising their children, and that only increases when the teenage years begin. Alcohol and drug use are a major cause for this anxiety. Yet, parents may not realize what’s already in their medicine cabinet can be as dangerous for teens as illegal substances.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that prescription and over-the-counter drugs are the most commonly misused substances for ages 14 and older (after alcohol and marijuana). Misuse of prescription drugs is highest for ages 18 to 25.
“Although most people take prescription medications responsibly, an estimated 54 million people (more than 20 percent of those aged 12 and older) have used such medications for nonmedical reasons at least once in their lifetime,” the NIDA reports.
A shift in abuse
In a 2017 story from Psychology Today, psychotherapist and author Sean Grover described working with teenagers in therapy, writing that he has asked them what “mood altering substances they or their friends have tried.” For almost 25 years, he says, teens mostly mentioned alcohol and marijuana. Recent answers to that question have now changed, Grover writes.
“Here’s what they said: Ritalin, Adderall, Vyvanse, Concerta, Xanax, Klonopin, Valium, Ecstasy/Molly, and Cocaine,” he stated. “Over three quarters of the substances they identified were prescription medications. Group after group, I was flabbergasted to hear the same drugs listed over and over again.”
The NIDA for Teens site puts commonly misused prescription drugs into three primary categories.
- Opioids: These drugs have been a constant in the news over the past several years. Abuse of opioids — including Vicodin, OxyContin and Codeine — has been defined as a national epidemic.
- Depressants: Drugs including Valium and Xanax are prescribed for anxiety relief or sleep issues.
- Stimulants: Drugs including Adderall and Ritalin are used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
“Doctors know how long it takes for a pill or capsule to dissolve in the stomach, release drugs to the blood and reach the brain,” the NIDA reports. “When misused, prescription drugs may be taken in larger amounts or in ways that change the way the drug works in the body and brain, putting the person at greater risk for an overdose.”
The undeniable difficulty of the teenage years can play a significant role in how prescription medicine can be abused. As Grover writes, these medications can be “attractive to teenagers who struggle with bouts of psychological and emotional distress resulting from hormone imbalances, irregularities in brain development, social pressures or family conflicts.”
Teens can think of the drugs as “an instant escape from discomfort and insecurity,” he says.
“After using prescription drugs, many teens report a burst of confidence or a sense of euphoria that they had never known before. Adolescents who are particularly impulsive, lack foresight, or wrestle with low self-esteem are most vulnerable.”
How addiction starts
Teenagers may have a false sense of security about prescription drugs, that anything that comes from a doctor must be safe. They may also believe that it’s safe to take medicine prescribed to someone else. And many will not realize that the effect these drugs have on the brain can lead to addiction.
“Medications that affect the brain can change the way it works — especially when they are taken over an extended period of time or with escalating doses,” the NIDA for Teens site explains. “They can change the reward system, making it harder for a person to feel good without the drug and possibly lead to intense cravings, which make it hard to stop using. This dependence on the drug happens because the brain and body adapt to having drugs in the system for a while. A person may need larger doses of the drug to get the same initial effects.”
Signs of prescription drug abuse
Teens may find it easier to conceal pills than illegal substances. But parents can identify physical symptoms, which the Mayo Clinic describes on its website.
- For opioids, symptoms include nausea, constipation, slowed breathing, drowsiness and confusion.
- For sedatives or anti-anxiety medication, symptoms include drowsiness, confusion, slurred speech, dizziness, poor concentration and memory problems.
- For stimulants, symptoms include agitation, anxiety, paranoia, insomnia, high blood pressure and body temperature and irregular heartbeat.
Other signs that teens may be abusing prescription drugs, according the clinic, are “excessive mood swings or hostility” and being “unusually energetic or revved up, or sedated.”
Find this post useful? Share it with your network?Tweet