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Prescription Drugs

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Caron Treatment Centers accepts patients aged 13 years or older. For more information on services available to those 12 and under, please learn more about Caron's Student Assistance Program.

Prevalence of prescription drug abuse among teens.

Prescription medications are quickly becoming teens' drugs of choice. Though teen illicit drugs use has declined in recent years, more and more young people are turning to prescription drugs to get high. In fact, each day an average of 2,000 teenagers age 12 to 17 use prescription drugs for the first time without a doctor’s guidance.

In 2008, nearly 2 million youth aged 12 to 17 abused prescription drugs, with 1.6 million abusing prescription pain medications. That makes painkillers among the most commonly abused drugs by teens after tobacco, alcohol and marijuana. Of the 14 most commonly abused illicit drugs amongst high school seniors, 8 are prescription medications. In order, they are:

  • Vicodin
  • Amphetamines
  • Tranquilizers
  • Cough medicine
  • Adderall
  • Sedatives
  • OxyContin
  • Ritalin

NIDA’s 2010 Monitoring the Future Study showed that 2.7% of 8th graders, 7.7% of 10th graders and 8.0% of 12th graders had abused Vicodin and 2.1% of 8th graders, 4.6% of 10th graders and 5.1% of 12th graders had abused OxyContin for nonmedical purposes at least once in the year prior to being surveyed.

How teens acquire prescription drugs.

The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse’s 13th annual survey on attitudes about drug abuse reported that it’s easier for teens to acquire prescription drugs than beer. CASA found that 54% of teens who admitted to abusing prescription drugs say they got them for free from a family member or friend. Sixty percent of teens admitted that drugs were sold, used or kept at school.

Effects and risks of prescription drug abuse.

Many people underestimate the risks associated with the use of opiates, like Vicodin or OxyContin or stimulants, like Adderall or Ritalin; but, in reality prescription medications are very similar to drugs like cocaine or heroin.

All types of prescription drugs can cause serious damage to users, especially when combined with other substances or when used in high doses. For example, long-term use of opioids or central nervous system depressants can lead to physical dependence and addiction. Opioids can cause drowsiness, confusion, constipation and, depending on dosage, depress breathing. Central nervous system depressants slow brain functioning, cause confusion and lead to poor judgment. If combined with alcohol or with other medications that cause drowsiness, they can slow heart rate and respiration to dangerous levels. Taken repeatedly or in high doses, stimulants can cause anxiety, paranoia, dangerously high body temperatures, irregular heartbeat, seizures, weight loss and insomnia.

Preventing teen prescription drug abuse.

To prevent teens from acquiring prescription medications, parents need to keep track of their medications, limit teens’ access to medications and throw out old or unused medications.

Talking to teens about the risks of prescription drug abuse is also critically important. Studies show that teens whose parents talk to them on a regular basis about the dangers of using drugs are 42% less likely to use drugs than teens whose parents don’t talk to them about drugs.

Signs of teen prescription drug abuse.

Indicators of prescription drug abuse include behaviors such as taking higher doses than prescribed; seeking prescriptions from more than one doctor; “losing” prescriptions so further prescriptions must be written; stealing, forging or selling prescriptions; excessive mood swings; and appearing unusually energetic or sedated.

Treating prescription drug abuse.

Treatment for prescription drug abuse and addiction differs from drug to drug but usually involves behavioral and pharmacological therapy. Please continue reading for more information on treatment and teen rehabilitation programs.