According to a new survey released by the MetLife Foundation and The Partnership at Drugfree.org, 24 percent of American teens have abused prescription drugs at least once in their lives. One in eight teens has abused a prescription stimulant (like Ritalin or Adderall) not prescribed to them. These numbers represent a 33 percent increase in teen prescription drug abuse rates when compared with rates five years ago.
Why are teenagers abusing prescription drugs at higher rates than ever? Prescription drugs are easier for teens to get than illegal street drugs — many teens are able to procure prescription drugs from their own medicine cabinets at home. Teens, and even some of their parents, believe that prescription drugs are safer than illegal street drugs, and that there’s nothing wrong with taking a prescription drug not prescribed to you. Some parents are even giving their teens prescription drugs, and some believe that abusing prescription drugs can have positive effects, like enhanced academic performance.
Safer Than Street DrugsTeens abuse prescription drugs for many of the same reasons they abuse street drugs — out of boredom or curiosity, or because they want to fit in with friends, or because they’re trying to cope with difficult feelings. But 27 percent of teens now say they believe that abusing prescription drugs is safer than abusing street drugs. One-third of the teens surveyed said that it was okay to take prescription drugs not prescribed to them to relieve their own pains or treat their own illnesses and injuries.
Why are teens so blasé about the risks associated with prescription drug abuse? It could be because a significant percentage of parents — one in six — also believe that abusing prescription drugs is safer than abusing street drugs. While 81 percent of teens have talked about the risks of marijuana abuse with their parents, and 80 percent have talked with their parents about the risks of alcohol abuse, only 16 percent have discussed the risks of prescription painkiller abuse with their parents, and only 14 percent have talked about the risks of abusing other kinds of prescription drugs.
Parents Are More Permissive About Prescription Drug AbuseOne quarter of teens say their parents wouldn’t be as upset with them if they were caught abusing prescription drugs compared to if they were caught with illegal drugs. Parents in general do seem more permissive about their teenagers’ abuse of prescription drugs — one in five of the parents surveyed have personally given their teens prescription drugs not prescribed to them.
Some parents may even believe that abusing certain prescription drugs, like the stimulant drugs used to treat ADD/ADHD, can have benefits for their children. Twenty-nine percent of parents surveyed said they believed that abusing ADD/ADHD medications can improve academic performance and test scores in their teenagers — even when the teenagers don’t suffer from ADD or ADHD.
Teens Have More Access to Prescription DrugsTeens are most likely to abuse drugs they can get access to, and for the most part, teens have more access to prescription drugs than they do to street drugs. Fifty-six percent of the teenagers surveyed said that they can easily procure prescription drugs from the household medicine cabinet. Forty-nine percent of parents said that the entire household has access to their prescription drugs. While 49 percent of teenagers who abuse prescription drugs get them from a friend, a significant number — 42 percent — take them right out of their parents’ medicine cabinets at home.
Risks of Teen Prescription Drug Abuse
Clearly, these numbers show that parents need to take action to prevent teen prescription drug abuse, which can lead to drug addiction. About 40 percent of the teens and young adults entering drug rehabs in Tennessee and other states are seeking treatment for prescription drug addiction, according to some estimates.
The younger a person is when he begins abusing substances, the more likely he is to develop a serious chemical dependency. That’s why prescription drug abuse among teens is such a serious concern. One in five teens who reported a personal history of prescription drug abuse said they first abused prescription drugs before the age of 14, when the risk of abuse developing into full-blown addiction is highest.
New statistics show that teens are abusing prescription drugs at higher rates than ever before — 24 percent of teens report having abused a prescription drug at least once. Perhaps more alarmingly, many teens and their parents believe that prescription drug abuse isn’t as harmful as illegal drug abuse, and that it can even be beneficial in some situations.
About the Author: Contributing blogger Adam Warren is a clinical psychologist who has dedicated 15 years of his life to the treatment of teen substance abuse and addiction.