Is Your Teen Abusing Prescription Drugs?

By JustMommies staff

Did you know that one of every five teens in the nation has abused prescription drugs? Prescribed medications now rank second (after marijuana) among all drugs misused by teens. How can you tell if your child is over-using prescribed medicines or has an addiction to them?

Spot the Signs of Rx Drug Abuse

“Prescription drug abuse” is when someone takes a medication (typically prescribed for someone else) in an amount or manner not approved by a doctor. Sometimes teens begin taking a parent's prescription drugs to stay awake for studying or to "get high." According to the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, there are a few telltale signs that indicate if your teen has developed a problem. Your teen may start acting out of character. While many adolescents tend to behave strangely as part of a normal growing-up phase, it may be a red flag if yours displays extreme behavior changes. If your teenager begins taking things that don’t belong to him or her, or becomes overly secretive or starts lying, these can be indicators of a drug problem.

Help Prevent Medication Misuse

You can take the following steps to help prevent the abuse of prescription medications in your household:

  1. Set guidelines about drugs, and have an open discussion (not a “lecture”) about the proper use of prescription drugs.
  2. Keep prescription drugs safely out of sight and reach.
  3. Model responsible behavior when dealing with prescription medicines. Be sure you don’t overindulge them.
  4. Have regular conversations with your teen about his or her aspirations and activities—stay tuned into what’s happening in his or her life.
  5. Help your teen stay involved in school and other activities that keep him or her active.

Ignorance Is Not Bliss

Many well-intentioned parents claim unawareness about their teen's use of prescription drugs. When their teen says he or she doesn’t feel well, many parents think they’re doing their child a favor by offering pills from their own medicine bottle. Even though it may seem helpful at the time, this is how addiction to prescription drugs can begin.
In these instances, by sharing their prescriptions, parents are doing their teens a disservice. In addition to being against the law, this practice may increase the likelihood that their teen will misuse and share those pills with their friends.

Hard Facts about Prescribed Medicines

Lots of parents are under the impression that when doctors prescribe medicines, they are “safe.” In reality, many prescription drugs can have powerful effects—some of which are as strong as the effects of illegal drugs. In fact, prescription and OTC medications are among the types of drugs most commonly misused by 12th graders—along with alcohol, marijuana, and tobacco. According to recent surveys, about 2.8 percent of students aged 12–17 years claim that they recently used prescription medications for “non-medical use.”
The most abused prescription drugs are central nervous system (CNS) depressants (downers) and stimulants (uppers). Some of the most commonly abused medications include Valium, Ambien, Adderall, Vicodin and Lorcet. These drugs can have serious side effects, including seizures, hallucinations or racing thoughts, anxiety, depression, sleep disorders, and heart problems. In some cases, misuse of these medications can lead to death—particularly if mixed with other drugs or alcohol.

Handling Teen Addiction to Prescription Drugs

It’s vital to keep the lines of communication open with your teen son or daughter. Here are some tips for parents:

  • If you find evidence that your teen may be abusing prescription medications, it’s important to say something—ask direct questions!
  • Remain calm and do your best to avoid emotional outbursts. Be sure to use a relaxed tone of voice, and always think twice before you say anything.
  • Be sure you don’t go overboard by exaggerating the evil effects of medication misuse. Teens will surely call you out if you don’t have your facts straight.
  • Give your teen unconditional love and consistent moral support.
  • Find out about drug treatment and/or support resources in your area (see the following resources list).


  • Treatment Referral Helpline (1-800-662-HELP) offered by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration—helps callers locate support groups, treatment facilities, and more.
  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-TALK). This is a hotline for many issues, in addition to suicide risk.
  • Listing of Adolescent & Teen Addiction Treatment Programs: