Study Shows Teens Don't Understand Prescription Drug Abuse Risks

Most teens don't think it's dangerous to take other people's prescriptions.
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While most teens know the risks associated with cocaine or heroin, many of them underestimate the dangers of abusing prescription drugs, according to a new study published by the Journal of Public Policy & Marketing. Unfortunately, prescription drug abuse has become such a big problem, the CDC has classified it as an epidemic.

Teens Most Likely to Abuse Prescriptions

Researchers in U.S. shopping malls invited teens to complete a web-based questionnaire on their use of substances. Teens were asked whether they experienced anxiety or felt a need to be popular. Additionally, they were asked what level of risk they associated with prescriptions.

Researchers discovered that the teens who were most likely to abuse prescriptions were ones who struggled with anxiety and those who wanted to be popular. Male teens were discovered to be at a greater risk of prescription drug abuse. 

The study found that most teens lacked understanding of how prescription drugs can be harmful. They most often assumed that drugs prescribed by a doctor must be safe. As a result, many of them were more willing to abuse prescription drugs as compared to drugs they considered harmful.

What Constitutes Prescription Drug Abuse

Prescription drug use comes in several forms. Some teens are abusing their own prescriptions. For example, a teen who is prescribed a stimulant for ADHD may take it in a way that isn’t in accordance with the doctor's orders. Snorting a pill, for example, constitutes abuse. Saving up a week’s supply and then taking the pills at once is also drug abuse.

Other teens are buying pills from their friends. Pain killers, anti-anxiety medications, and 'study drugs' are the most commonly abused prescriptions. A teen may mistakenly assume that if It’s been prescribed by a doctor, the pills must be safe.

Steps Parents Can Take to Prevent Teens from Abusing Prescriptions

Most parents who have teens who abuse prescriptions, never imagined their teen could fall prey to a prescription drug problem. It’s important to take a proactive approach to reducing your teen’s risk of abusing prescription drugs.

Here are a few steps you can take to prevent your teen from experimenting with prescription drugs:

  • Talk to your teen about the dangers. Teens need ongoing education about the dangers of prescription drug abuse. Educate yourself about the risks so you can carry on regular conversations with your teen about the issue. When media stories about prescription drug abuse arise—whether it’s a pharmacy robbery or a story of someone going to jail for selling prescription drugs—talk to your teen about the issue.
  • Seek professional help for mental health problems immediately. Teens who are struggling with mental health issues, like an anxiety disorder, are more likely to turn to prescriptions for help. Rather than using drugs to get high, a teen with a mental health probelm may simply be trying to feel normal. If you suspect your teen has a mental health issue, seek professional help immediately.
  • Role model healthy prescription use. If you “borrow” a pain pill from a relative when you’ve hurt your back or give a sleeping pill to a friend struggling with insomnia, you're abusing drugs. Make it clear that everyone should only take medications prescribed to them and discuss the importance of taking medication according to the prescription label.
  • Store medicine safely. If anyone in your household is prescribed a medication that is commonly abused, keep it locked up. That will remove any temptation your teen—or your teen’s friends—may have to take a pill.
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