Why Kids and Teens Abuse Prescription Drugs

All segments of the population abuse prescription drugs, but prescription drug abuse among young people is of particular concern. Deaths from prescription drug abuse have skyrocketed in the last two decades. This begs the question: Why are so many young people abusing prescription drugs?

This problem is not new. It has been building since the late 1990s. The Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine published a paper that said in part:

Intentional drug abuse of prescribed and OTC medicines has climbed steadily. Data from the 2005 National Survey on Drug Use and Health demonstrated that 6.4 million (2.6%) people aged 12 or older had used prescription drugs for nonmedical reasons during the past month. Of these, 4.7 million used pain relievers, 1.8 million used tranquilizers, and 1.1 million used stimulants. The nonmedical use of prescription drugs in the past month among young adults aged 18 to 25 increased from 5.4% in 2002 to 6.3% in 2005, primarily because of an increase in the abusive use of pain relievers.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), reports from the Monitoring the Future Study that the trend has worsened. From 2011 to 2014, about 20% of 12th graders had abused prescription drugs at some point in their lifetimes and six and half to seven percent had done so in the past month. While 2014 saw a small decline in abuse overall, these statistics do not take into account those young people who have switched from prescription painkiller abuse to heroin, which is cheaper and easier to obtain.

Why do kids do it? A study from 2005 published in Pediatrics gave several reasons:

Twelve percent of the respondents had engaged in nonmedical use of opioid pain medications in the past year: 3% for sleeping, 2% as a sedative and/or for anxiety, and 2% as stimulants. The reasons for engaging in the nonmedical use of prescription medications varied by drug classification.

In other words, adolescents abuse substances for a number of reasons. They misuse and abuse stimulants to help them focus for tests or write papers. Then when they cannot sleep, they misuse or abuse sleep aids. Others use sedatives or painkillers for anxiety or to escape physical or emotional pain.

There are many reasons teens abuse prescription medications. It is our responsibility as adults to role model and teach better coping skills and provide healthy alternatives to substance abuse.


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