Signs, Symptoms and Effects of Teen Prescription Drug Addiction

What is Teen Prescription Drug Addiction?

Learn More About Teen Prescription Drug Addiction

When people think of teen substance abuse, many assume that marijuana or alcohol are the substances of abuse that are being discussed. However, in recent years, teens have been misusing prescription medications at an alarming rate for the purposes of achieving a mind and mood-altering high.

Whether teens are acquiring prescription medications by getting a prescription from their physicians, or if they are taking them from their caregiver’s medicine cabinets or from their peers, prescription drug abuse of any kind can be exceptionally dangerous. Many young people assume that these substances are safe because they can come from doctors, though the truth of the matter is that they can be detrimental to a youth’s wellbeing when they are consumed.

Unfortunately, the longer the abuse of prescription medication occurs, the more likely a teen is to develop a physical dependence and a difficult addiction to overcome. What is imperative to know, however, is that all hope is not lost when a youth is grappling with such a problem. Via effective treatment that addresses the unique needs of young people, teens can defeat an addiction to prescription drugs once and for all.


Statistics of Teen Prescription Drug Addiction

It is estimated that nearly five percent of teens abuse prescription opioids during any given year. Additionally, research found that youth who misused prescription medications were much more likely to engage in the abuse of alcohol and illicit drugs, including heroin, cocaine, and methamphetamine. Finally, it was found that over one million emergency room visits are due to teens consuming prescription medications for non-medical reasons. Considering these statistics, it is apparent that teens across the nation are in need of interventions and treatment to combat this widespread issue.

Causes and Risks

Causes and Risk Factors of Teen Prescription Drug Addiction

There are many reasons why a teen may turn to the abuse of prescription drugs. Among such reasons, the following explanations and risk factors are those that are widely agreed upon by mental health and addiction professionals:

Genetics: A substantial amount of research has concluded that substance using behaviors do in fact have a genetic component to them. Given this fact, it can be said that teens with a family history of substance abuse, including the abuse of prescription drugs, are more likely to partake in the abuse of illicit drugs, alcohol, and prescribing medications because of their genetic predisposition.

Environmental: If a teen is able to acquire prescription medications easily, it is more likely that the youth will begin abusing these types of drugs. Additionally, if a young person bears witness to drug abuse or associates with peers who also abuse substances like prescription medications, the risk of engaging in similar behaviors is increased. Furthermore, if a teen lacks healthy skills for coping and endures some sort of trauma, it is possible that he or she will turn to the abuse of prescription drugs as well.

Risk Factors:

  • Exposure to chronic stress or conflict
  • Family history of substance abuse, addiction, or dependence
  • Having a condition that warrants a prescription medication
  • Associating with peers who abuse substances
  • Having easy access to prescription medications
  • Personal or family history of mental health condition(s)

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and Symptoms of Teen Prescription Drug Addiction

Depending on the prescription drug that a teen is abusing, the warning signs that this type of substance abuse is occurring can vary. Especially if a teen is going to great lengths to conceal his or her prescription medication use, those closest to the young person may not be highly attuned to what is going on. However, if you are concerned that a teen in your life may be abusing prescription drugs, it may be beneficial to pay attention to the following possible symptoms:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Stealing prescription medications
  • Skipping school
  • Attempts to conceal drug use
  • Decreased participation in things that were once enjoyed
  • Not fulfilling roles / responsibilities
  • Using prescription drugs in hazardous situations
  • Attempting, but failing, to stop the abuse of prescription drugs
  • Lying
  • Increased conflict with others
  • Physical aggression towards others

Physical symptoms:

  • Tremors
  • Changes in sleep patterns
  • Lack of coordination
  • Change in eating habits
  • Lack of good hygiene
  • Weight loss or gain
  • Slurred or incoherent speech
  • Bloodshot eyes

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Disorientation
  • Impaired decision-making
  • Delayed thinking
  • Confusion
  • Altered perceptions of reality
  • Poor concentration

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Declined motivation
  • Inability to experience pleasure
  • Depressed mood
  • Drastic shifts in mood
  • Irritability
  • Personality changes
  • Agitation
  • Anxiousness


Effects of Teen Prescription Drug Addiction

Remaining addicted to prescription medications can elicit numerous devastating effects for a teen. Without professional help, a youth is bound to struggle with some sort of adversity in the present or future. However, by seeking treatment, the following consequences can be diminished or avoided completely:

  • Interaction with the legal system
  • Addiction leading to dependence
  • Social withdrawal or isolation
  • Manifestation of a mental health condition or conditions
  • Suicidal ideations
  • Academic failure
  • Expulsion from school
  • Loss of relationships with others
  • Increased conflict with others
  • Damage to vital organs
  • Suicide attempts
  • Death as a result of suicide or overdose
  • Multi-organ failure

Co-Occurring Disorders

Co-Occurring Disorders & the Complexity of Teen Prescription Drug Addiction

It is very common for a teen to struggle with additional mental health concerns at the same time as an addiction to prescription drugs. Because of this truth, it is possible for a young person to be treated for one or more of the following mental disorders while receiving care for a prescription drugs abuse problem:

  • Depressive disorders
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Schizophrenia
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Posttraumatic stress disorder
  • Another substance use disorder

Withdrawal & Overdose

Effects of Withdrawal and Overdose of Teen Prescription Drug Addiction

Effects of withdrawal: A telltale sign that a teen has become physically dependent on a prescription medication is through the emergence of withdrawal symptoms. Withdrawing from prescription medications can be an extremely uncomfortable experience that can cause a youth to return to the use of prescription drugs. Given this fact, it is crucial for treatment to be sought if any of the following symptoms manifest once a teen is no longer abusing prescription medications:

  • Confusion or disorientation
  • Hallucinations
  • Seizures
  • Aching muscles
  • Profuse sweating
  • Abdominal cramping
  • Restlessness
  • Tachycardia
  • Elevated levels of anxiety
  • Changes in appetite
  • Insomnia or hypersomnia
  • Fatigue
  • Weakness
  • Tremors
  • Vivid dreams
  • Agitation
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea

Effects of overdose: Another unfortunate side effect of abusing prescription drugs is that there is an ever-present risk of overdose. Teens who misuse medications chance ingesting too much of a given drug, which could prove deadly if the signs of overdose become apparent. If a young person in your life begins displaying any of the following symptoms, emergency medical treatment should be sought quickly to prevent a grave outcome:

  • Dilated pupils
  • Inability to communicate
  • Respiratory failure
  • Cyanosis
  • Seizures
  • Loss of consciousness or coma
  • Shallow heart beat
  • Chest pains
  • Cramps in one’s muscles
  • Dizziness
  • Vomiting
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Loss of skin tone
  • Clammy skin
Our Client Experience

My son would buy prescription drugs off the street. Eventually, he let the drugs control his life, and by the time we noticed, it was too late. Though it was a hard journey, Greenleaf was able to help my son break free from his prescription drug addiction. I have the staff at Greenleaf to thank for saving his life.

– Mary K.
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