3 Examples of Teen Drug Abuse Myths

3 Examples of Teen Drug Abuse Myths

July 15, 2022

Teens who abuse drugs or alcohol may have an increased risk of developing an addiction as adults. Once addiction develops, substance abuse treatment at a treatment center like Hillcrest in Los Angeles, California, may be the safest and most effective way to help your teen stop using and enhance their chances of living a substance-free and healthy life.


Teen substance abuse can have long-term cognitive and behavioral effects. The brains and other body systems of teens are still in the development phase, and the use of certain substances can inhibit or impair these vital growth processes. It is essential for parents to be able to understand the difference between substance abuse and addiction. Many teens will experiment with a substance at some time but aren’t addicted. Recognition and prevention of chronic use that can lead to addiction can help to end a potential problem before it starts. 


Teen Drug Abuse Statistics

Studies have shown that many teens suffer from symptoms related to drug and alcohol addiction. For these youth, seeking help at a teen-focused addiction treatment program like Hillcrest can help begin a journey towards life-long healing and lasting sobriety. According to a recent survey by Monitoring the Future Survey (MTF) funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the following trends have developed among teens in recent years. 


  • Prescription drug abuse is the fastest-growing addiction among teens
  • Over twenty percent of teens surveyed have tried OxyContin (for non-medical reasons)
  • Thirty-three percent of teens admit to using marijuana in the last year
  • Forty-four percent of teens admit to using alcohol in the past thirty days
  • Alcohol abuse among teens causes nearly seven percent more deaths than all other illicit drugs combined
  • Almost forty percent of teens who abused prescription medications obtained the drugs from a parent, grandparent, or guardians medicine cabinet
  • One in three (approximately 30%) parents believe there is little to nothing they can do to prevent teen drug abuse
  • Nearly half of all new drug users are under the age of eighteen. 


The majority of adults with substance use disorders first experimented with drugs or alcohol before they reached age twenty-one. If you think your teen is experimenting with substances, treatment options are available, including our program here at Hillcrest.


3 Common Teen Drug Abuse Myths

There are several myths or misconceptions that surround teen substance use and abuse. Typically, myths about teen addiction revolve around how and why teens begin using drugs and alcohol. It is essential for parents and caregivers to understand more about teen drug addiction and how or why their children first start using. 


Myth #1: Prescription drugs are safer to use and abuse than illicit (street) drugs

Many teens (and adults) believe that prescription drugs are a safer way to manage stress, enhance academic or athletic performance, or simply get high. Because these drugs are prescribed by a medical or mental health provider and their parents or loved ones (may) take prescription drugs regularly, they seem safer than an illegal alternative. But, this assumption is a dangerous one. 


When taken without a prescription or otherwise misused, prescription drugs can have all the same harmful and life-threatening effects as illicit street drugs like heroin and methamphetamine. Mixing prescription medications with other drugs or alcohol – as many youths will do to enhance their high –  can also have unpredictable and deadly consequences. 


Sadly, it is very easy for teens to access prescription drugs from sources other than a medical provider. In many cases, prescription drug abuse begins with teens accessing drugs “at home” from a parent or guardian’s medicine cabinet. Some data suggests as many as 80% of teens get prescription drugs from their relatives or friends by stealing or buying them from someone with a prescription. In addition to accessing drugs from friends and family, they may also purchase them from dealers or online pharmacies. 


When talking to your teen about drug abuse, it is crucial they understand that prescription drugs are no less dangerous than street drugs. Taking a prescription medication without medical oversight may lead to unpredictable effects. Their primary care provider has not evaluated the safety for your teen’s use, and there is no way to predict what side effects prescription drugs may have on their physical and mental health. 


Myth #2: Misusing drugs (including prescriptions) occasionally is OK and can help me in school

Teens may believe particular substances, especially prescription stimulants, can help improve their performance. Youth of all ages, including high school and college-age students, may turn to drugs like Adderall (a prescription stimulant used to treat attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder) to increase energy and enhance concentration to improve academic or athletic performance. It is not uncommon for teens to believe using prescription drugs like Adderall for this purpose is safer or OK because they are prescription rather than illicit. 


As noted above, prescription drugs can be equally as harmful as street drugs. Because many life-long struggles with addiction start during adolescence, experimenting with prescription medications or any other drug can be particularly dangerous to teens. Prescription drugs lead to physical and functional effects on the brain. These changes may correct a chemical deficit or imbalance for someone who needs a medication for a legitimate medical reason. For an otherwise healthy brain, the changes caused by chronic abuse of these drugs can be damaging, addicting, or even life-threatening. Teens must understand that when abused or misused, prescription drugs are equally as addictive and dangerous as street drugs like meth and heroin. You can die from abusing or misusing prescription drugs not prescribed to you-even the first and only time.


Myth #3: Everyone else is doing it, except my teen

This myth focuses more on the dangerous misconception that “my teen” is immune to the potential dangers of substance use. Remember, teen drug abuse is not all about prescription drugs. Abuse of other, non-prescription drugs like alcohol and marijuana occurs with notable frequency at high schools and college campuses across the nation. 


Recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show nearly 40% of high school students report using marijuana in their lifetime. Of those, 22% report doing so in the past month. Similarly, up to 25% of 14 and 15-year old’s report drinking alcohol, and 7 million youth and teens report consuming “more than a few sips” in the past 30 days. Over 4 million report binge drinking, and just under 1 million report binge drinking five days or more in the past month. Surveys of adolescents and teens also indicate approximately 20% of teens report misusing prescription drugs. These statistics suggest following the assumption that any teen is immune and invulnerable to experimenting with drugs or alcohol is dangerous. 


The teen years are a time of growth, self-discovery, and testing the limits of independence. Because the teen brain is still growing, skills like judgment and decision-making are not as sound as they are in later years. Teens are prone to experimentation and risk-taking behaviors, including substance use. Acknowledging that any teen may experiment with drugs or alcohol can help parents, caregivers, teachers, and coaches ask the right questions and know what to watch for. 


Treatment for Teen Drug Addiction at Hillcrest

Many teens experience stress and other emotional challenges as they grow and develop. These are common, and while challenging at the time, they typically resolve themselves without much fanfare or intervention. However, if you notice your teen is behaving differently for no apparent reason – such as acting tired, depressed, or uncharacteristically moody – it could be a sign that they are developing a substance abuse-related problem.


Suppose you are unsure whether your child is abusing substances. In that case, you can enlist the assistance of your teen’s primary care provider, school guidance counselor, or a treatment professional at a teen drug rehab like Hillcrest. These individuals may be able to provide you with other signs and symptoms to look for or offer valuable insight into your child’s behaviors outside of the home that you may be unaware of. Also, guidance counselors or your primary care provider may be able to offer suggestions and advice about suggested treatments and programs that may be the most beneficial for your teen. 


In some cases, this may not be the first time you have discussed mental health or addiction treatment with your teen. If they have already tried quitting or reducing their substance use independently or completed a drug or alcohol rehab program and relapsed after treatment, it’s essential to receive treatment (or return to treatment) as soon as possible. The earlier an addiction is recognized and addressed, the easier it is to treat, and treatment is more likely to be successful. 


Many teens with drug or alcohol use disorders also have a co-occurring mental health disorders, such as anxiety, eating disorders, trauma, or depression. The most effective treatment programs integrate care for both issues concurrently. When looking into treatment programs, it is essential to look for programs with licensed professionals trained to address co-occurring substance use and mental health treatment simultaneously. 


If you are concerned about your teen’s experimentation with or use of substances, it may be time to consider a treatment program designed to address their individual needs. At Hillcrest, our programs are designed around the specific treatment needs and goals of your teen rather than the illness, ensuring each person receives specialized care from our highly trained medical and mental health professionals. Contact us today if you are concerned that your teen may be using, don’t wait to seek help. Early intervention is the most successful path to recovery and ongoing sobriety.