Self-medicating with prescription drugs



Some 25 percent of teens:

  • Report having misused or abused a prescription (Rx) drug at least once in their lifetime.

  • Say their parents don’t care as much if they are caught using Rx drugs without a doctor’s prescription, compared to getting caught with illegal drugs.

  • Mistakenly believe that misusing and abusing prescription drugs is safer than using street drugs.

  • Think “it’s okay to use prescription drugs that were not prescribed to them to deal with an injury, illness or physical pain”.

The 2012 Monitoring the Future survey reported that “prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) drugs are among the most commonly abused drugs by twelfth graders, after alcohol, marijuana, synthetic marijuana and tobacco. Youth who abuse prescription medications are also more likely to report the use of other drugs.”


As we all know, when a doctor prescribes medicine, it treats our medical problems effectively and safely. These Rx drugs taken in a form such as a pill gets to the brain slowly and, at a dose that treats the issue, but not overwhelms the system – both reducing the potential for addiction.


The most common types of Rx drugs being abused are:

  • Opioids such as pain relievers, OxyContin and Vicodin,

  • Central nervous system depressants and tranquilizers such as Xanax and Valium,

  • Stimulants such as Concerta and Adderall.

Just like illicit drugs, the abuse of these Rx drugs can have powerfully negative effects in the brain and body. Opioid painkillers act on the same sites in the brain as heroin; prescription stimulants have the same effects as cocaine.


These OTC medicines are obtained from the medicine cabinet in the family’s and friends’ homes. Such abuse is now the leading cause of deaths from car crashes. Emergency room visits due to such accidents from the misuse or abuse of prescription drugs more than doubled between 2004 and 2010. In drug overdose deaths, opioid painkillers were the most commonly found drug, accounting for almost 40 percent of these deaths.


“Parents fear drugs like cocaine or heroin and want to protect their kids. But the truth is that when misused and abused, medicines – especially stimulants and opioids – can be every bit as dangerous and harmful as those illicit street drugs….As parents and caring adults, we need to take definitive action to address the risks that intentional medicine abuse poses to the lives and the long-term health of our teens,” said Steve Pasierb, President and CEO of The Partnership at Drugfree.org.


You can help your kids be aware that, if someone they care about is abusing or misusing prescription drugs, encourage that person to talk to a parent, school guidance counselor, or other trusted adult.

Copyright © 2020 Lily Lu, MBA, MA, LMFT

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