Signs of Prescription Drug Addiction and Abuse in Adolescence

Prescription drug addiction has erupted into a plague. Drug abuse in adolescence is not uncommon, and prescription drug abuse is often the gateway to more serious drug problems. Prescription drug abuse is highest in late adolescence from 17 to 25 years old. Alcohol, tobacco, and marijuana remain the top three drugs of choice for young people. Drugs abused by those between 10 and 25 are typically either the prescription painkiller class or prescription stimulant type of drug. Painkillers, almost always opioids, are the most heavily abused and have the highest risk for long-term addiction. In fact, in 2008, about 15% of 12th graders reported using Oxycontin or hydrocodone to get high. The younger a person is when prescription drug addiction takes control, the more likely they are to escalate.

Prescription painkillers, in the form of common drugs like hydrocodone or oxycodone, are addictive and produce addiction fairly rapidly. Hydrocodone has been placed in Schedule II, requiring far greater physician oversight when they’re giving it, but nonetheless, there’s still a great deal of legally prescribed opioids out there. Teens often find them in their parents or grandparents’ medicine cabinets, but been a teen means years of great physical activity and the injuries that go with it.  Thus, they get their own painkillers.  For many, even brief exposure to a powerful opioid starts the addiction process.

Parents and guardians should be on the lookout for the following signs of prescription drug abuse:

  • Missing medicines or prescriptions not lasting long enough before needing to be refilled. If you have prescription painkillers or prescription ADHD (Adderal, Cylert) medication in your home, you must be aware of how much is there and how fast it’s being used. It’s a bad idea to stockpile painkillers, yet many people do so. It’s not uncommon for people to have many bottles of painkillers from barely used prescriptions.  Know what medicines you have and how much.
  • Sudden changes from the norm.  This includes a teen’s appearance, sleeping and eating habits, and personality. Be aware that narcotic painkillers don’t have exactly the same effects for everyone. For some, hydrocodone can increase clarity of thoughts and focus, give energy and elevate a bad mood.  That’s contrary to the general effect of a depressant. Nonetheless, for some, opioids may act like stimulants. I’m one of those folks. My system kind of works in reverse. Stimulants kill my energy level; depressants or narcotics tend to make me feel energized and buoyant. The takeaway is to know what the baseline is for your teen and note when it changes.
  • Changes in friends and activities. Old friends don’t come around as much and teens may drop out of formerly beloved activities.
  • Out of the ordinary transgressions, like theft, breaking curfew for no apparent reason, getting in trouble at school.
  • Signs of intoxication. Slurred speech, drowsiness, forgetfulness.
  • Watch the medicine cabinet for other medicines.  Opioid prescription painkillers cause constipation. The longer a person abuses those drugs, the worse it may get.  If you notice your teen using OTC medicines to relieve constipation, take note.