When to Treat Teen Prescription Drug Addiction

September 11, 2020

The fastest-growing drug problem in the United States is not cocaine, heroin, or methamphetamines- it is prescription drugs. We often hear about celebrities and other well-known public figures struggling with addiction and see families and communities torn apart by the effects of widespread dependence on painkillers. But, what we often overlook is the reality that teens are not exempt from or immune to the pitfalls of prescription drug addiction. Parents are all too frequently shocked to learn that their missing prescription medication is due to their teen stealing it from their bag or medicine cabinet. Unfortunately, parents may not even realize there is a problem until it is too late.

After marijuana and alcohol, prescription drugs are the most commonly abused substances by teens in the United States. While statistics related to teen prescription drug abuse vary by region, rates across the nation have more than doubled in the last decade. In 2015 an estimated eighteen percent of high school seniors reported having misused prescription drugs at least once, and of those, thirteen percent report having done so in the past year. Many teens also say they assume that prescription drugs are not as dangerous as illegal drugs because they are prescribed by a doctor.

It can be difficult to know when to seek addiction help for your teen. The short answer is, right now. If you are concerned, your teen may have an addiction to prescription medications or that they could misuse them, contact a treatment center that specializes in teen addiction treatment like Hillcrest Adolescent Treatment Center right away. When it comes to teen addiction, there is no such thing as seeking treatment “too soon.”

Why Teens Abuse Prescription Drugs

The reasons for teen prescription drug abuse vary widely. They may experience peer pressure to take the risk or feel stressed with life’s challenges related to academics or their home environment. Some may begin experimenting while others abuse prescription drugs as a means to get high or to numb pain and discomfort associated with life events. Still, others may think certain medications may help them lose weight quickly or even achieve better grades. Regardless of why or how they start, it is essential to know that the risks of overdose, permanent health consequences, and even death are real. A comprehensive treatment program such as that at Hillcrest in Los Angeles, California, will look below the surface of the addiction to treat the entire individual through evidence-based, individual treatment programs.

Commonly Misused Prescription Drugs

A common misconception among teens is that prescription drugs (whether theirs or someone else’s) are safer or less harmful than other kinds of “street drugs.” However, there is a broad range of short and long-term health consequences for each type of prescription drug when misused.


This class of drugs often includes medications used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, such as Ritalin or Adderall.

Stimulants have side effects in common with cocaine. Some of the most common may include paranoia, dangerously elevated blood pressures, and an irregular heartbeat. This is especially true if stimulant drugs are taken in large doses or in methods other than swallowing a whole, uncrushed pill. Additional side effects include an increased risk of heart problems and seizures.

Opioids (painkillers)

The class of drugs labeled as opioids often includes medications such as oxycodone (Oxycontin) and hydrocodone (Vicodin). Opioid medications act on the same parts of the brain as heroin. When used, even appropriately, they can cause drowsiness, nausea, and constipation. When taken in larger quantities, they can also result in severely slowed breathing. Users may also crush the pills to achieve a stronger, more immediate effect, which can result in lower blood pressure and even lead to coma and death.

Depressants and Sedatives

Teens commonly abuse antianxiety medications such as Xanax, or sedatives used to treat sleep disorders such as Ambien. Depressant medications can cause shallow breathing, fatigue, lack of coordination, shallow breathing, and in some cases, seizures upon withdrawal from chronic or long-term use. In addition, misuse of sedatives in teens has an increased risk of overdose and death.

As the adolescent brain and body are still growing, these side effects and physical impacts can be particularly harmful to the developing individual. The human brain continues to develop until reaching its early to mid-20s. During adolescence, the parts of the brain that enable us to control impulses and set priorities are still in the developmental phases. Drug use, even prescription drugs, impacts perception skills, and can adversely affect developing neural pathways. Additionally, during adolescence, the brain is becoming hardwired, and the pathways that are consistently reinforced are the ones that remain. If those pathways include addiction, the impacts can result in life-long challenges.

Other Symptoms of Potential Prescription Drug Abuse

In addition to the physical symptoms mentioned above, there may also be behavioral changes that could indicate your teen may be abusing prescription medication. Some of these behaviors may include sudden shifts in mood or personality. In addition, if you notice changes in appetite, such as lack of desire to eat or sudden increased weight gain, a potential substance use disorder may be something to consider. Other behaviors impacted by prescription drug abuse include changes in sleep habits (such as sleeping too much or not being able to sleep well) and a lack of interest in activities that they once enjoyed.

How Can You Help Your Teen?

If you suspect your teen is struggling with a prescription drug addiction, there are several things that you can do to help. First and foremost, remember that early treatment at a teen addiction treatment center such as Hillcrest is key to successful treatment and recovery.

In addition to treatment programs such as Hillcrest mentioned below, there are several other things you can try or consider.


One out of every four teens believes that prescription drugs can be used as a study aid. In addition to parents and prescribers, teens must be educated on the impact of prescription drugs, such as those used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, on the developing brain.

Promote Awareness

Unless you ask your teen what they know about prescription drugs, you may not have a clear understanding of the depth of their knowledge. If they do take prescription drugs (those legally prescribed to them by a medical provider), teach them how to handle them properly and advise them never to give or sell the drugs to friends. Rather than lecturing, point out recent news stories about prescription drug abuse or the more considerable consequences of addiction, including overdose in death.

Be A Role Model

Modeling healthy behaviors by taking your own prescription medications correctly, keeping track of your pills, and not borrowing medication from within your family are ways that parents and other adults within the household can model safe and healthy medication practices. You can also teach your teen how to talk to their doctor or mental health provider and ask questions about their medications.

Store and Dispose of Your Medication Safely

Tow-thirds of teens who misused pain relievers in the last year indicate that they got them from family and friends. This can include taking them from medicine cabinets within their home or merely asking other family members for their medications. This means it is essential to safeguard the medicine within the home by keeping potentially addictive medications in a safe place. Also, the secure disposal of drugs when they are no longer needed or expired diminishes the opportunity for easy access by those other than for whom the medication was prescribed.

Prescription Drug - Use - Hillcrest

Ask for Help

Ask your family doctor or a mental health professional to talk with your teen about the dangers of prescription drug use. If you are concerned that your teen may be struggling with prescription drug addiction, talk to their medical provider about the drugs that are prescribed to them and see if there are any non-medicinal alternatives to their current medications. Suppose you believe your teen is already misusing medication. In that case, mental health professionals can provide screenings or immediate interventions at a licensed residential treatment program such as Hillcrest in Los Angeles.

It is essential to remember that seeking help for your teen’s prescription drug addiction is not a sign of your failure as a parent. On the contrary, seeking help as soon as you fear there could be an issue is essential to helping your teen defeat their addiction and achieve long-lasting recovery. When your teen arrives at Hillcrest, our staff experienced in teen addiction treatment will create a treatment program designed specifically for your teen’s needs. Our programs provide individual and group therapy options to help your teen look to the root of their addictive behavior. In addition to therapy, detox (if necessary), nutrition, medication management, and other activities are all an integral part of your teen’s treatment program at Hillcrest. We also offer family counseling to help parents and teens work together both during treatment and to create a plan of action after your teen returns home.

If you aren’t sure where to start and are concerned about your teen misusing prescription medications, begin at home. Ensure your medications are stored in a safe location where easy access is unlikely. Also, please keep track of your medications to ensure you are the only one taking them. There are many situations where prescription medications are essential to healthy physical and mental health functioning; however, intentional misuse of these medications remains a growing trend among teens (and adults).

At Hillcrest, we understand the decision to seek addiction treatment for your teen can be one of the most challenging decisions a parent must make. Discussions regarding addiction can be difficult for every family member, including your teen struggling with addiction. If you need assistance talking with your teen about addiction or the first steps to seeking addiction treatment, contact Hillcrest today.




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