Discussing the Teenage Prescription Drug Abuse Epidemic

by Polaris Teen Center | Feb 5, 2018 | Mental Health, Resources, Substance Abuse

teen prescription drug abuse

When most people hear the term “drug abuse”, they immediately think of substances that can be bought on the street. Most of our educational and national dialogue efforts are focused on these drugs, and these are the drugs you hear about most often in the news. But while street drugs certainly present a public health hazard for teens and adults alike, they are really just a part of a much greater issue.

While the use of some illicit substances has been decreasing across the nation, the use—and abuse—of prescription drugs has been steadily on the rise. Prescription drug abuse has quickly become a national epidemic that affects people of all ages, demographics, and socio-economic levels. Until we are willing to honestly examine the causes, damages, and possible solutions as a nation, it seems very likely these trends will continue.

Why has prescription drug abuse been increasing?

The prescription drug abuse epidemic is something that has blindsided many people. Many people often assume that because their prescription was written by a licensed professional, then nothing could even possibly go wrong. But this is simply not the case.

Though doctors generally have nothing but good intentions, things can happen beyond their control. As the number of prescriptions in circulation has increased over time, the likelihood of at least some of them being abused has necessarily increased as well. Because the line between ‘just enough’ and ‘too much’ is not always clear, every patient presents a new possibility of being overprescribed.

The risk of over-prescription is something that has existed since the rise of modern pharmaceuticals. But there are a number of reasons it has been increasing over the past decade:

  • Stronger drugs have led to an increased likelihood of addiction.
  • Ongoing pressures to prefer over-prescription to under-prescription.
  • Increased access to medical care has inadvertently led to increased access to addictive medications.
  • More prescriptions in circulation means that there are more that are likely to be abused.
  • Relaxed industry standards for what qualifies as a ‘diagnosable’ condition.
  • Legitimate increases in certain conditions that are frequently treated with prescription drugs.
  • Numerous other complicated issues.

The problem with this current epidemic is that there are no perfect solutions in sight. On one hand, decreasing access to prescription medications could deprive those who really need them. But on the other hand, it seems that some sort of systematic change is obviously needed. 

Why are teenagers uniquely vulnerable to drug abuse?

Teenagers are particularly likely to abuse drugs for several reasons. Because they are experiencing such a wide variety of mental, physical, and social changes, they are uniquely likely to be suffering from a condition that makes them qualified to receive a prescription. Furthermore, because their chemical and biological systems are already particularly fragile, they are also more likely to quickly develop an addiction.

Prescription drug abuse is something that can affect individuals of all ages, and public concern shouldn’t just be limited to teenagers. But, keeping the transition their body is going through in mind, it is especially important to make sure this demographic is safe. The development of an addiction early in life can lead to decades of problems down the road if not properly addressed. 

What types of prescriptions are teenagers most likely to abuse?

Any prescription that chemically alters a given individual’s body or mind is something that has the potential for abuse. This is not to say that all prescription medication should be avoided, rather, it is declaring that all parents ought to at least be mindful of their teenagers.

  • Prescription stimulantsmore teenagers are currently being diagnosed with ADD, ADHD, Bipolar Disorder, and Depression than ever before. Consequently, more teenagers are also being given prescriptions that try to stimulate their brains back to normality. These prescriptions are often highly demanded by teenagers who hope to use them for studying (or even partying), and many stimulants carry a high potential for abuse.
  • Prescription depressants as is the case with most psychological conditions, there has also been an increase in teenagers diagnosed with anxiety. Most varieties of depressants can be easy to become dependent on. If your teenager is prescribed a depressant, you should monitor their behavior closely.
  • Prescription painkillers many painkillers are derived from opium, which is generally agreed to have a high potential for abuse. Individuals who have gone through surgery, had their wisdom teeth removed, or suffered a major injury may be prescribed painkillers to help them for a short period of time. But, if not carefully managed, it can become very easy to become dependent on these drugs quite quickly, and very difficult to successfully quit. 

How can I know if my teenager has been abusing prescription drugs?

If your teenager was recently given some form of prescription medication, it is very likely that their behavior will begin to change to some extent. But it can be very difficult to anticipate which sorts of changes in behavior can be considered normal and which might demonstrate an ongoing addiction.

Begin by researching the medication and learning about its side effects, risks, and intended purpose. It is also a good idea to talk to your teenager’s doctor about what you can expect to see unfold. Watch for any major changes in behavior, trouble with school, or inverse reactions to what the drug is supposed to be doing. If you have reason to believe your teenager has developed a drug abuse problem, it may be a good idea to seek some sort of outside help.

How can we help those who suffer from substance abuse issues?

Though there is a lot of work that still needs to be done with how we approach drug abuse in our nation, there are a lot of solutions that are still available.

  • Residential Treatment Centers (RTC)for those who suffer from the most severe substance abuse disorders, RTCs can offer them the constant care and attention that they need.
  • 12 Step Programs these programs offer individuals an opportunity to be surrounded by people going through struggles similar to their own. With a professional, community-oriented approach, 12 Step Programs have proven themselves to be quite successful for some.
  • Experiential Treatment this alternative approach to healing offers individuals an opportunity to find a productive outlet that doesn’t involve substances. Through the use of art, music, poetry, nature, and physical activities, many individuals can find the unique source of salvation they have been looking for.
  • Individual Therapy many people prefer to work in an individualized environment with a trained professional. With individual therapy sessions, those who suffer from addiction can discover strengths and solutions they didn’t even know they had.

Prescription drug addiction can be an incredibly difficult problem to overcome. It can be even more difficult if you are a teenager. But with the right tools, recovery is possible. There is always hope. To learn more about our programs, or to speak with an admissions specialist, contact us at 1-844-836-0222 or visit us on the web at https://polaristeen.com/


Polaris Teen Center | Website | + posts

Polaris Teen Center is a residential treatment facility for teens and adolescents suffering from severe mental health disorders. Our highly accredited facility is fully licensed and certified in Trauma Informed Care and is a part of the Behavioral Health Association of Providers (formerly AATA).