Muir Wood therapist, David Laing

Legal Drugs Teens Abuse to Get High

Did you know that your child doesn’t have to hang out in dark alleys or associate with the “wrong crowd” to abuse drugs? According to the Monitoring the Future survey, the most recent information suggests that more than 20 percent of high school seniors admit to abusing prescription drugs over the course of their lifetimes, and nearly 70 percent have abused alcohol.

When discussing legal drugs and the abuse of these drugs by teenagers, it is important to determine what a legal drug is precisely. Is it a drug they have come by through legal means, such as purchasing it over the counter at the local convenience store? What about prescription drugs? Prescriptions are legally obtained from doctors every day, and sometimes they fall into the wrong hands – the hands of teens across the country. Sometimes, they are prescribed to the teens themselves. Is alcohol a legal drug?

Over-the-Counter Drugs Can Be Dangerous

There is a common misconception among many people that over-the-counter drugs must be absolutely safe. The government — agencies charged with protecting the citizens of our country — would not allow them to be sold without a prescription to anyone with a debit card if they were not, right? This is partly true. The Food and Drug Administration sets guidelines and can even ban certain ingredients in the over-the-counter drugs that are sold to Americans, but the fact remains that the drugs are safe if taken according to the directions. When teens purchase these drugs for the express purpose of getting high, to enhance their performance, or even to counteract the effects of other drugs they have taken, they are not taking them in accordance with the directions.

They will generally take them in much higher doses, which can lead to dangerous behaviors due to euphoric effects of the medication, or physical health problems that can be life-threatening.

According to an article published by the Philadelphia newspaper Daily News, there are many types of over-the-counter drugs that are readily abused by teenagers across the nature.

These drugs include:

  • They abuse cold remedies because of the ingredient dextromethorphan, which can cause hallucinations and a “high” feeling; this ingredient can also lead to increased heart rate, seizures and disrupted breathing.
  • Caffeine drinks and “shots” can lead to excessive and dangerous dehydration.
  • Diet pills and laxative abuse may indicate an eating disorder.
  • Motion sickness pills taken in very large doses have similar effects to high-powered street drugs, but can also cause a teen to suffer a heart attack, coma and death.
  • Natural herbs can be very dangerous, marketed to teens as a safe and legal means to get high, causing high blood pressure, seizures, stroke and death.

If you suspect that your teen may be engaged in over-the-counter drug abuse, it is important that you find help as quickly as possible.

Prescription Drugs Are Often Readily Available

Prescription drugs are prescribed every day for diagnosed medical and psychological conditions by hospitals, doctors, physician assistances and clinics all over the country. Most of these prescriptions are taken according to doctors’ and pharmacists’ instructions without incident, but some are abused. An individual might receive pain medication for a sprained ankle, for instance, and take only a few doses before they no longer feel the need to use them. The remaining pills may be forgotten in the back of the medicine cabinet where teens can find them.

Prescription pain medication is also provided to teens for injuries or illnesses. Without proper monitoring and supervision, the teen may shorten the time between doses if they feel that the medication is not working well enough.

Some teens may feel that, because the drugs are legally prescribed, it is acceptable to share their medication with friends if they suffer an injury or if they have a headache at school.

Still others, who like the euphoric feeling that opioid medications can cause, will deliberately take higher doses and share the drugs with their friends for the sole purpose of getting high.

Prescriptions given to teens for psychological issues can be the equally dangerous. Psychological conditions are generally ongoing; therefore, teens may be exposed to the addictive prescription medication for longer periods of time. If the prescription is not taken exactly as prescribed, the patient may increase his risk of addiction. This is the result of a process known as tolerance. Tolerance, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, refers to the body’s adjustment to the chemicals introduced through medication and other drugs. The body will become used to having these chemicals present and the effects of the drugs will be reduced. An example of this may be when an individual is asked not to drive a car or operate heavy machinery when they first begin taking a new drug. When a teenager does not follow the instructions provided with his prescription, his body may increase the rate of tolerance which might lead him to take higher doses more frequently. Soon, he will find that he suffers from withdrawal symptoms if he does not take “enough” of the medication.

Alcohol Is a Drug of Abuse for Many Teens

While teens in the United States are prohibited by law from obtaining, possessing, or consuming alcohol, it is still legally sold in this country. Teens can obtain alcohol from many sources, including their own homes by stealing alcohol from their parents. Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant that, when taken in access, can be life-threatening. According to an article from Psychology Today, many teens are regularly engaging in binge drinking episodes. They aren’t stealing a single beer from their parents’ refrigerators; rather, they are drinking with the sole purpose of becoming intoxicated.

Nearly half of 9th grade girls, for instance, have admitted to binging on alcohol, and well more than half of female high school seniors have admitted to it as well. Boys tend to binge drink even more than girls.

While alcohol is addictive and the abuse of alcohol can lead to teen alcoholism, binge drinking is dangerous on another level. Alcohol poisoning is a very real threat when any individual drinks too much at one time. Some drugs begin to metabolize, or wear off, as soon as the individual stops taking them. Alcohol is different because it must go through the digestion process. A teen may, quite literally, “pass out” from the alcohol that has been metabolized through their liver and into their blood stream, but they aren’t quite finished drinking. The alcohol they have consumed but not metabolized will continue to increase their blood alcohol content even after they are unconscious. Because their friends may think they have simply fallen asleep, and because they may not want to find themselves in trouble with legal authorities or their parents, they may not recognize the life-threatening dangers of this condition.

Signs of Legal Drug Abuse in Teens

Recognizing behaviors and other clues about your teen’s behavior is important if you suspect he may be abusing drugs or alcohol. There are many behavioral signs you can watch for, but remember that every teen is different and not all of the symptomatic behaviors will be present in every child.

Some signs include:

  • Has your son made new friends lately, but he doesn’t want you to meet them?
  • Are his grades falling without any explanation?
  • Have you found over-the-counter drug packaging in his room, car or school bag?
  • Have you “misplaced” your own prescription drugs?
  • Does your son receive ongoing prescriptions for a chronic condition and often “run out” prior to his next refill?
  • Has your teen changed his attitude about his hygiene practices or appearance?

If you suspect that your teen may be abusing legal drugs to get high, you can make a difference in his life by seeking help immediately. In fact, the issue may be even deeper than you realize. Did you know that many individuals who abuse drugs, including teens, suffer from another mental illness that may be undiagnosed? They may have developed depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder or some other condition that needs medical attention.

The good news is that drug abuse and addiction are treatable and manageable with the right intervention. Contact us today to find out how we can help your son make significant strides to a better future.

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Muir Wood Adolescent and Family Services is a Joint Commission-accredited mental health and substance use disorder treatment provider located in Petaluma, California. We provide integrated evidence-based care including psychiatry, psychotherapy, experiential therapy, wellness services, and milieu therapy for adolescents and teens, and their family members.