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Five Most Popular Prescription Drugs Used by Teens

March 20, 2014

According to the 2010 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), each day 6,600 Americans use prescription drugs for the first time — that’s approximately 2.4 million a year! Teens make up about one quarter of that number, and that number is on the rise, due in part to prescription drug availability; many adolescents receive these drugs for free from a friend or relative.

Why the increase in teen prescription drug use over the past decade? The Center for Disease Control may have the answer. It recently reported that in 2010:

Enough prescription painkillers were prescribed to medicate every American adult around-the-clock for a month. Although most of these pills were prescribed for medical purposes, many end up in the hands of people who misuse or abuse them.”

There are various reasons teens to turn to drugs — to improve academic performance, to party, to fit in, to lose weight — but why prescription drugs? There’s a growing perception among adolescents that prescription drugs are safer than illegal street drugs. Sadly, this is not true. Although prescribed by professionals, prescriptions can be deadly when used for recreational purposes or in combination with alcohol or other drugs.

Here are the five most popular prescription drugs misused or abused by teens:

  1. Valium (Diazapam): Part of the benzodiazepine family, Valium is usually described to treat anxiety and panic attacks, and is sometimes used as a sedative or muscle relaxant. This central nervous system depressant can be highly addictive when taken for an extended period of time. Withdrawal from this drug can be dangerous and includes symptoms such as seizures, anxiety, hallucinations, respiratory distress, numbness and tachycardia.
  2. Vicodin (Hydrocodone): Part of the opioid family, it’s reported that 1-in-5 teenagers have experimented with this drug. Readily prescribed, Vicodin is becoming more and more popular due to its accessibility and relaxant and euphoric effects. Extended use results in tolerance to the drug, thus requiring more and more pills to receive the same effects, which could lead to overdose. Vicodin withdrawal symptoms can include anxiety, insomnia, sweating, abdominal cramping, nausea and vomiting.
  3. Adderall (Amphetamines): Prescribed for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHA), this drug is often called the “good grade drug” because of it’s ability to improve a student’s concentration. Frequent or prolonged use of Adderall can lead to anxiety, mania paranoia and in severe cases, heart failure and even death.
  4. OxyContin (Oxycodone): Another member of the opioid family, this drug is generally prescribed to manage moderate-to-severe pain. The euphoric high, similar to heroin, is intense. OxyContin is often a gateway drug to street drugs, due to the high prices of ‘Oxy’ compared to heroin. Withdrawal symptoms can include restlessness, insomnia, diarrhea, vomiting and cold flashes.
  5. Xanax (Alprazolam): Another central nervous system depressant, Xanax is prescribed to treat anxiety disorders. When taken as prescribed this drug is effective, but taken recreationally it is highly addictive, making teens vulnerable to accidental overdose. Combining Xanax with alcohol or other medications is extremely dangerous and can be deadly.

Parents must take preventative measures, like securely locking up and monitoring all prescription medication in the house. A recent study found only two-thirds of parents have talked with their teen about the dangers of prescription drugs, thus making the next step of prevention a conversation between parents and their children.

Sources: NIDA:; NIDA for Teens:

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