Teens, Young Adults, and Prescription Drugs: What Parents and Caregivers Need to Know

Posted May 23, 2017

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Summary

  • Teens and young adults misuse prescription drugs to get high, focus, and relieve stress.
  • Common sources are their homes and school.
  • Misusing these drugs can cause permanent brain changes.

Who are teens and young adults?

Teens means people aged 13 to 18. Young adulthood stretches from the mid-teens to 25 years old. There are definite differences between 13-year-olds and people in their early twenties. But they share two things: freedom and vulnerability.

What are prescription drugs?

Prescription drugs are medicines that require a doctor’s note, or prescription. People must be under a doctor’s care to use them. Some prescription drugs treat conditions that doctors must watch closely. Some can be dangerous to use for the wrong reason. Some have high risk profiles. They may be very strong or have dangerous side effects. Some are called controlled drugs. They come with a high risk of addiction.

What prescription drugs do teens and young adults misuse?

Teens and young adults misuse three main types of prescription drugs:

Opioids—narcotic pain medicines. They attach to opioid receptors in the body and tell the brain to release pleasure hormones. Examples include:

  • Oxycodone (Oxycontin®)
  • Oxycodone/acetaminophen (Percocet®)
  • Hydromorphone (Dilaudid®)
  • Hydrocodone/acetaminophen (Vicodin®)
  • Methadone (Methadose®)
  • Morphine (Astramorph®)

Stimulants—drugs that increase a chemical message in the brain called dopamine. They treat attention and focus issues like attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Examples include:

  • Methylphenidate (Ritalin®, Concerta®)
  • Dextropamphetamine (Dexedrine®, Adderall®)

Depressants—drugs that slow brain activity, also known as sedatives or anxiolytics. They treat insomnia, anxiety, or seizures. Examples include:

  • Alprazolam (Xanax®), diazepam (Valium®), and other benzodiazepines
  • Zolpidem (Ambien®), eszopiclone (Lunesta®), and other sleep medicine
  • Phenobarbital (Luminal Sodium®) and other barbiturates

What is prescription drug misuse?

Doctors look at a lot of information before they write prescriptions, including:

  • Health history: personal and family history, drug allergies, and other medicines
  • Personal statistics: vital signs, height, weight, age, and metabolism
  • Lifestyle: school or work schedule, hobbies and activities, and risk of substance misuse

Doctors use this information to choose the safest prescription drugs and doses.

Misuse means taking medicine:

  • Prescribed to another person
  • In higher doses than prescribed
  • More often than prescribed
  • For longer than the doctor ordered
  • To get high
  • With alcohol or other drugs

Why is prescription drug misuse so dangerous for teens and young adults?

Most dangers of prescription drug misuse apply to everyone, including:

  • Unwanted side effects
  • Physical and behavioral health problems
  • School, work, and relationship problems
  • Addiction
  • Possible risk of future heroin use

It is especially dangerous for teens and young adults. Our brains continue to develop into our twenties. The area called the frontal lobe develops during adolescence. It is made of two parts: the prefrontal cortex and the outer mantel. They control thoughts and behavior, such as:

  • Impulse control
  • Problem-solving
  • Decision-making
  • Prioritizing
  • Abstract thinking
  • Understanding consequences

Neurotransmitters are chemical signals in the brain. Prescription drugs can slow down or disturb neurotransmitters. This can permanently hurt the frontal lobe, making it hard to function.

Why do teens and young adults misuse prescription drugs?

People think that young people misuse prescription drugs to get high, or feel good. But other reasons include:

  • Staying up to study
  • Focusing in school or on tests
  • Relaxing or de-stressing
  • Escaping from problems
  • Relieving pain
  • Feeling less socially awkward
  • Losing weight

It is important to remember that young people have complex lives. They are under pressure to do well in school, develop responsibility, and be accepted. Sometimes, they turn to prescription drugs to cope.

Where are teens and young adults getting these drugs?

Prescription drugs are everywhere. It is easy for teens and young adults to get them. Common sources include:

  • Their own prescriptions
  • Their parents’/caregivers’ drugs
  • Other people’s homes
  • Friends or family members who share or sell them
  • Dealers, often fellow students
  • Online

What can I do?

Keep your home safe.

  • Get rid of old prescription drugs.
  • Do not get refills if you do not need them.
  • Lock up family members’ prescription drugs.
  • Be in charge of young people’s prescription drugs.

Talk about prescription drugs.

  • Tell your adolescent about the dangers.
  • Ask family members to throw out or lock up their medicines.
  • Talk to friends and your community about it.
  • Talk to your adolescent’s doctor about alternatives to drugs such as non-opioid pain relievers instead of prescription opioids.

If you think your teen or adolescent is misusing prescription drugs, don’t panic. Help is available by calling the toll-free number on this site.

Resources

Narconon
www.narconon.org

National Institute on Drug Abuse
www.drugabuse.gov

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
www.samhsa.gov

By Beth Landau
Source: National Institute on Drug Abuse's "Abuse of Prescription (Rx) Drugs Affects Young Adults Most." (2016) www.drugabuse.gov/related-topics/trends-statistics/infographics/abuse-prescription-rx-drugs-affects-young-adults-most; National Institute on Drug Abuse's "Misuse of Prescription Drugs: Adolescents and Young Adults." (2016) www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/prescription-drugs/trends-in-prescription-drug-abuse/adolescents-young-adults; SAMHSA's "Specific Populations and Prescription Drug Misuse and Abuse." (2015) www.samhsa.gov/prescription-drug-misuse-abuse/specific-populations; Science and Management of Addiction's "The Effects of Drugs And Alcohol on The Adolescent Brain." (2005) www.samafoundation.org/the-effects-of-drugs-and-alcohol-on-the-adolescent-brain.html
Reviewed by Heather Lober, MS, LMFT, Director, Strategic Initiatives and Enrique Olivares, MD, Director, Addiction Services, Beacon Health Options

Summary

  • Teens and young adults misuse prescription drugs to get high, focus, and relieve stress.
  • Common sources are their homes and school.
  • Misusing these drugs can cause permanent brain changes.

Who are teens and young adults?

Teens means people aged 13 to 18. Young adulthood stretches from the mid-teens to 25 years old. There are definite differences between 13-year-olds and people in their early twenties. But they share two things: freedom and vulnerability.

What are prescription drugs?

Prescription drugs are medicines that require a doctor’s note, or prescription. People must be under a doctor’s care to use them. Some prescription drugs treat conditions that doctors must watch closely. Some can be dangerous to use for the wrong reason. Some have high risk profiles. They may be very strong or have dangerous side effects. Some are called controlled drugs. They come with a high risk of addiction.

What prescription drugs do teens and young adults misuse?

Teens and young adults misuse three main types of prescription drugs:

Opioids—narcotic pain medicines. They attach to opioid receptors in the body and tell the brain to release pleasure hormones. Examples include:

  • Oxycodone (Oxycontin®)
  • Oxycodone/acetaminophen (Percocet®)
  • Hydromorphone (Dilaudid®)
  • Hydrocodone/acetaminophen (Vicodin®)
  • Methadone (Methadose®)
  • Morphine (Astramorph®)

Stimulants—drugs that increase a chemical message in the brain called dopamine. They treat attention and focus issues like attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Examples include:

  • Methylphenidate (Ritalin®, Concerta®)
  • Dextropamphetamine (Dexedrine®, Adderall®)

Depressants—drugs that slow brain activity, also known as sedatives or anxiolytics. They treat insomnia, anxiety, or seizures. Examples include:

  • Alprazolam (Xanax®), diazepam (Valium®), and other benzodiazepines
  • Zolpidem (Ambien®), eszopiclone (Lunesta®), and other sleep medicine
  • Phenobarbital (Luminal Sodium®) and other barbiturates

What is prescription drug misuse?

Doctors look at a lot of information before they write prescriptions, including:

  • Health history: personal and family history, drug allergies, and other medicines
  • Personal statistics: vital signs, height, weight, age, and metabolism
  • Lifestyle: school or work schedule, hobbies and activities, and risk of substance misuse

Doctors use this information to choose the safest prescription drugs and doses.

Misuse means taking medicine:

  • Prescribed to another person
  • In higher doses than prescribed
  • More often than prescribed
  • For longer than the doctor ordered
  • To get high
  • With alcohol or other drugs

Why is prescription drug misuse so dangerous for teens and young adults?

Most dangers of prescription drug misuse apply to everyone, including:

  • Unwanted side effects
  • Physical and behavioral health problems
  • School, work, and relationship problems
  • Addiction
  • Possible risk of future heroin use

It is especially dangerous for teens and young adults. Our brains continue to develop into our twenties. The area called the frontal lobe develops during adolescence. It is made of two parts: the prefrontal cortex and the outer mantel. They control thoughts and behavior, such as:

  • Impulse control
  • Problem-solving
  • Decision-making
  • Prioritizing
  • Abstract thinking
  • Understanding consequences

Neurotransmitters are chemical signals in the brain. Prescription drugs can slow down or disturb neurotransmitters. This can permanently hurt the frontal lobe, making it hard to function.

Why do teens and young adults misuse prescription drugs?

People think that young people misuse prescription drugs to get high, or feel good. But other reasons include:

  • Staying up to study
  • Focusing in school or on tests
  • Relaxing or de-stressing
  • Escaping from problems
  • Relieving pain
  • Feeling less socially awkward
  • Losing weight

It is important to remember that young people have complex lives. They are under pressure to do well in school, develop responsibility, and be accepted. Sometimes, they turn to prescription drugs to cope.

Where are teens and young adults getting these drugs?

Prescription drugs are everywhere. It is easy for teens and young adults to get them. Common sources include:

  • Their own prescriptions
  • Their parents’/caregivers’ drugs
  • Other people’s homes
  • Friends or family members who share or sell them
  • Dealers, often fellow students
  • Online

What can I do?

Keep your home safe.

  • Get rid of old prescription drugs.
  • Do not get refills if you do not need them.
  • Lock up family members’ prescription drugs.
  • Be in charge of young people’s prescription drugs.

Talk about prescription drugs.

  • Tell your adolescent about the dangers.
  • Ask family members to throw out or lock up their medicines.
  • Talk to friends and your community about it.
  • Talk to your adolescent’s doctor about alternatives to drugs such as non-opioid pain relievers instead of prescription opioids.

If you think your teen or adolescent is misusing prescription drugs, don’t panic. Help is available by calling the toll-free number on this site.

Resources

Narconon
www.narconon.org

National Institute on Drug Abuse
www.drugabuse.gov

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
www.samhsa.gov

By Beth Landau
Source: National Institute on Drug Abuse's "Abuse of Prescription (Rx) Drugs Affects Young Adults Most." (2016) www.drugabuse.gov/related-topics/trends-statistics/infographics/abuse-prescription-rx-drugs-affects-young-adults-most; National Institute on Drug Abuse's "Misuse of Prescription Drugs: Adolescents and Young Adults." (2016) www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/prescription-drugs/trends-in-prescription-drug-abuse/adolescents-young-adults; SAMHSA's "Specific Populations and Prescription Drug Misuse and Abuse." (2015) www.samhsa.gov/prescription-drug-misuse-abuse/specific-populations; Science and Management of Addiction's "The Effects of Drugs And Alcohol on The Adolescent Brain." (2005) www.samafoundation.org/the-effects-of-drugs-and-alcohol-on-the-adolescent-brain.html
Reviewed by Heather Lober, MS, LMFT, Director, Strategic Initiatives and Enrique Olivares, MD, Director, Addiction Services, Beacon Health Options

Summary

  • Teens and young adults misuse prescription drugs to get high, focus, and relieve stress.
  • Common sources are their homes and school.
  • Misusing these drugs can cause permanent brain changes.

Who are teens and young adults?

Teens means people aged 13 to 18. Young adulthood stretches from the mid-teens to 25 years old. There are definite differences between 13-year-olds and people in their early twenties. But they share two things: freedom and vulnerability.

What are prescription drugs?

Prescription drugs are medicines that require a doctor’s note, or prescription. People must be under a doctor’s care to use them. Some prescription drugs treat conditions that doctors must watch closely. Some can be dangerous to use for the wrong reason. Some have high risk profiles. They may be very strong or have dangerous side effects. Some are called controlled drugs. They come with a high risk of addiction.

What prescription drugs do teens and young adults misuse?

Teens and young adults misuse three main types of prescription drugs:

Opioids—narcotic pain medicines. They attach to opioid receptors in the body and tell the brain to release pleasure hormones. Examples include:

  • Oxycodone (Oxycontin®)
  • Oxycodone/acetaminophen (Percocet®)
  • Hydromorphone (Dilaudid®)
  • Hydrocodone/acetaminophen (Vicodin®)
  • Methadone (Methadose®)
  • Morphine (Astramorph®)

Stimulants—drugs that increase a chemical message in the brain called dopamine. They treat attention and focus issues like attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Examples include:

  • Methylphenidate (Ritalin®, Concerta®)
  • Dextropamphetamine (Dexedrine®, Adderall®)

Depressants—drugs that slow brain activity, also known as sedatives or anxiolytics. They treat insomnia, anxiety, or seizures. Examples include:

  • Alprazolam (Xanax®), diazepam (Valium®), and other benzodiazepines
  • Zolpidem (Ambien®), eszopiclone (Lunesta®), and other sleep medicine
  • Phenobarbital (Luminal Sodium®) and other barbiturates

What is prescription drug misuse?

Doctors look at a lot of information before they write prescriptions, including:

  • Health history: personal and family history, drug allergies, and other medicines
  • Personal statistics: vital signs, height, weight, age, and metabolism
  • Lifestyle: school or work schedule, hobbies and activities, and risk of substance misuse

Doctors use this information to choose the safest prescription drugs and doses.

Misuse means taking medicine:

  • Prescribed to another person
  • In higher doses than prescribed
  • More often than prescribed
  • For longer than the doctor ordered
  • To get high
  • With alcohol or other drugs

Why is prescription drug misuse so dangerous for teens and young adults?

Most dangers of prescription drug misuse apply to everyone, including:

  • Unwanted side effects
  • Physical and behavioral health problems
  • School, work, and relationship problems
  • Addiction
  • Possible risk of future heroin use

It is especially dangerous for teens and young adults. Our brains continue to develop into our twenties. The area called the frontal lobe develops during adolescence. It is made of two parts: the prefrontal cortex and the outer mantel. They control thoughts and behavior, such as:

  • Impulse control
  • Problem-solving
  • Decision-making
  • Prioritizing
  • Abstract thinking
  • Understanding consequences

Neurotransmitters are chemical signals in the brain. Prescription drugs can slow down or disturb neurotransmitters. This can permanently hurt the frontal lobe, making it hard to function.

Why do teens and young adults misuse prescription drugs?

People think that young people misuse prescription drugs to get high, or feel good. But other reasons include:

  • Staying up to study
  • Focusing in school or on tests
  • Relaxing or de-stressing
  • Escaping from problems
  • Relieving pain
  • Feeling less socially awkward
  • Losing weight

It is important to remember that young people have complex lives. They are under pressure to do well in school, develop responsibility, and be accepted. Sometimes, they turn to prescription drugs to cope.

Where are teens and young adults getting these drugs?

Prescription drugs are everywhere. It is easy for teens and young adults to get them. Common sources include:

  • Their own prescriptions
  • Their parents’/caregivers’ drugs
  • Other people’s homes
  • Friends or family members who share or sell them
  • Dealers, often fellow students
  • Online

What can I do?

Keep your home safe.

  • Get rid of old prescription drugs.
  • Do not get refills if you do not need them.
  • Lock up family members’ prescription drugs.
  • Be in charge of young people’s prescription drugs.

Talk about prescription drugs.

  • Tell your adolescent about the dangers.
  • Ask family members to throw out or lock up their medicines.
  • Talk to friends and your community about it.
  • Talk to your adolescent’s doctor about alternatives to drugs such as non-opioid pain relievers instead of prescription opioids.

If you think your teen or adolescent is misusing prescription drugs, don’t panic. Help is available by calling the toll-free number on this site.

Resources

Narconon
www.narconon.org

National Institute on Drug Abuse
www.drugabuse.gov

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
www.samhsa.gov

By Beth Landau
Source: National Institute on Drug Abuse's "Abuse of Prescription (Rx) Drugs Affects Young Adults Most." (2016) www.drugabuse.gov/related-topics/trends-statistics/infographics/abuse-prescription-rx-drugs-affects-young-adults-most; National Institute on Drug Abuse's "Misuse of Prescription Drugs: Adolescents and Young Adults." (2016) www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/prescription-drugs/trends-in-prescription-drug-abuse/adolescents-young-adults; SAMHSA's "Specific Populations and Prescription Drug Misuse and Abuse." (2015) www.samhsa.gov/prescription-drug-misuse-abuse/specific-populations; Science and Management of Addiction's "The Effects of Drugs And Alcohol on The Adolescent Brain." (2005) www.samafoundation.org/the-effects-of-drugs-and-alcohol-on-the-adolescent-brain.html
Reviewed by Heather Lober, MS, LMFT, Director, Strategic Initiatives and Enrique Olivares, MD, Director, Addiction Services, Beacon Health Options

The information provided on the Achieve Solutions site, including, but not limited to, articles, assessments, and other general information, is for informational purposes only and should not be treated as medical, health care, psychiatric, psychological, or behavioral health care advice. Nothing contained on the Achieve Solutions site is intended to be used for medical diagnosis or treatment or as a substitute for consultation with a qualified health care professional. Please direct questions regarding the operation of the Achieve Solutions site to Web Feedback. If you have concerns about your health, please contact your health care provider.  ©2019 Beacon Health Options, Inc.

 

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