Legal Drug Abuse and Addiction In Teens

Friday, May 31st, 2013

Legal drug abuse and addiction may not be something most parents think about according to a new poll by C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital.   Legal drug abuse, often cited as prescription drug abuse, is the deliberate misuse of a prescribed medication.  For many teens, that medication is Adderall or Ritalin, which are widely prescribed as study drugs or medications to combat Attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

In the poll, just one percent of parents said their children had taken drugs such as Adderall or Ritalin without a prescription.  However, in 2012, 10 percent of high school sophomores and 12 percent of high school seniors said they had used the drugs without a medical prescription.

The Danger of Legal Drug Abuse and Addiction

Many parents and teens are ignorant of the dangers of legal drug abuse and addiction. In fact, many teens and their parents view drugs like Adderall or Ritalin as safe. This attitude exists for prescription pain killers like Vicotin and Oxycodone, which are also physician prescribed. Like their painkiller counterparts, Ritalin and Adderall are potent and significantly strong medications which alter specific receptors in the brain. Teens often take these drugs as stimulants to help them focus on homework or study for a test.

Like prescription painkillers, these drugs can be addictive and potentially harmful to a teen’s development. Legal drug abuse and addiction continue to rise in the United States despite intense law enforcement efforts and government regulations reducing the availability of commonly abused prescription drugs.

The Parental Disconnect

It can be hard to recognize the signs of drug abuse and addiction in your teen, especially if your teen is performing well in school and not showing any signs of difficulty in his or her social life. Unlike street drugs like heroin or cocaine, a teen can more easily hide prescription drug abuse and may even be able to purchase the drugs at school through a friend. It can be difficult for a parent to identify the misuse of these drugs, as the increased focus might actually improve a student’s performance at school. While the benefits may seem great in the short term, taking unnecessary medication can be dangerous and the side effects are often unpredictable.

Unfortunately, most parents fail to ask questions the questions that can help a teen open up about drug use or abuse. According to the study, 95% of parents said their teens had never abused these drugs, while more than 10 percent of teens indicate that they had. The disconnect often comes because neither teens nor their parents think of prescription drug misuse as legal drug abuse and addiction. However, more and more teens are checking into rehab facilities to combat the side effects of their drug abuse and addiction habits.

What Can Parents Do?

Many schools are starting to recognize the need for increased communication and education about the misuse of these prescription drugs. Drug abuse and addiction materials should include information on prescription drugs like Ritalin, Adderall and Ambien, which are common in a school setting, in addition to street drugs like cocaine and heroin. Parents should speak openly with their teens about legal drug abuse and addiction problems in their community and create a non-judgemental space for teens to discuss what they see in their school.