Teens and Rx Meds: What You Should Know

Last Updated: Friday, September 17, 2021

pill bottle with medsPrescription drugs are the most commonly misused substances by teens after marijuana and alcohol. When teens misuse prescription drugs and take them in different amounts or for reasons other than as they are prescribed, they affect the brain and body in ways very similar to illicit drugs.

When prescription drugs are misused, they can be addictive and have harmful health effects such as overdose (especially when taken along with other drugs or alcohol). An overdose is when a drug is swallowed, inhaled, injected, or absorbed through the skin in excessive amounts and injures the body. Overdoses are either intentional or unintentional. If the person taking or giving a substance did not mean to hurt themselves or others, then it is unintentional.1 

Some teens use prescription stimulants to try to improve mental performance. Teens and college students sometimes misuse them to try to get better grades. Taking prescription stimulants for reasons other than treating ADHD or narcolepsy could lead to harmful health effects, such as addiction, heart problems, or psychosis.2 

According to a national survey, among 12th graders, 3.9% used Adderall nonmedically in the past year.3 

Remember: Sharing prescription drugs with family members or friends is illegal.


Where do teens get their prescription drugs?

Many teens obtain prescription drugs from their family or friends. Teens find prescription drugs and OTC drugs in their home medicine cabinet or on the kitchen shelf.

For persons aged 12 or older who misused a prescription pain reliever in the past year4:

51.3% of people who misused pain relievers in the past year obtained the pain relievers the last time from a friend or relative.

34.7% received their pain reliever through a prescription from one doctor.

6.5% bought the last pain reliever they misused from a drug dealer or stranger. 


Want to learn more? Check out the DEA publication, Prescription for Disaster.



1 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 

2National Institute on Drug Abuse 

3 2019 Monitoring the Future Study.

4 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health

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