A-Z Teen Health Glossary

Teen Prescription Drug Abuse Treatment

The most commonly-abused drugs in the US are those that are legal, or legal in most areas. Millions of Americans commonly use cigarettes, alcohol, and marijuana, with over 16 million Americans living with a smoking-related disease, while over 18 million Americans struggle with an alcohol use disorder, and roughly 14% of American adults admitted using marijuana in the last year.

However, while the use of alcohol and tobacco is in a slow but steady decline, the use of marijuana and other legally-murky drugs are on a rise. Data shows that prescription drugs in particular have undergone a massive spike in previous decades, as regulations grew lax and doctors began in some cases overprescribing certain medicines. Prescription drugs such as Adderall, Xanax and Oxycontin have since been found to cause and feed a nationwide addiction to illegally-acquired pills, either from family medicine cabinets, or from the streets.

What Does Prescription Drug Abuse Look Like?

  • While it is rare to overdose on these drugs unintentionally, they can be taken with other drugs or be intentionally abused for self-harm or recreational use, leading to addiction and worse. Stimulants, depressants and opioids must be prescribed and taken with extreme care and are more likely to cause addiction when taken recreationally.
  • Teen prescription drug abuse is as serious an addiction as any and can disrupt all areas a person’s life. For teens, this can lead to problems at school and at home, with relationships and friendships, leading to alienation and bad behavior.
  • Millions of young adults are unaware of the dangers of prescription drugs in comparison to street drugs and believe them to be a “safer” alternative despite similar dangers.

Signs of Prescription Drug Abuse

Confusion (Depressants)

Slurred speech (Depressants)

Problems with memory (Depressants)

Insomnia (Stimulants)

Agitation (Stimulants)

Reduced appetite (Stimulants)

Irregular heartbeat (Stimulants)

Constipation (Opioids)

Commonly Abused Prescription Drugs

In general, addictive prescription drugs are divided into three categories: anti-anxiety medication and sedatives, also known as depressants; stimulants, most commonly amphetamines, usually used to treat ADHD; opioids, very powerful analgesics used for chronic and terminal pain. Other prescription drugs exist – such as antidepressants and antipsychotics – but these affect the brain in a different way, and do not present the same risk of addiction.

Depressants – anti-anxiety medication is often meant to help inhibit fears by affecting GABA activators, greatly increasing a general sense of ease, mental relaxation, and happiness. They also have an effect on the brain’s neurotransmission of dopamine, giving you a euphoric feeling. When used recreationally, drugs like Xanax and Valium often put users at ease and make them happy. But the misuse of these drugs at wrong dosages can lead to an addictive effect, where the brain needs more of the drug to function properly.

Stimulants – just like the other two drug types, stimulants affect the regulation of dopamine in the brain, heavily improving a person’s self-motivation, helping them tunnel-vision onto a single task, and improving sleepiness. Alongside addiction, drug abuse can lead to a number of other problems including insomnia, kidney failure, heart conditions, stroke, and blood vessel damage.

Opioids – these drugs have a similar effect to depressants, slowing down a person’s breathing and causing a relaxing effect, alongside a very powerful euphoric high and a lack of pain. However, when abused or overused, an overdose can happen, causing a person to lose consciousness and struggle to breathe. This can lead to oxygen deprivation and death. Opioids are highly addictive, and one of the most dangerous illegal opioids – heroin – is leading the nation’s current opioid crisis.

Teen Prescription Drug Abuse Treatment | Paradigm Malibu

What Causes Prescription Drug Abuse?

Popularity – research shows that we’re more likely to do something if we think others are doing it too, even if it’s the morally wrong thing to do. In other words, the more kids use prescription drugs, the more likely they are to get other kids to try it as well. In other cases, the peer pressure to try something in order to fit in can also play a factor. Teens are uniquely susceptible to this due to a greater need to belong to a specific group or conform to an identity. That being said, some teens who might not understand the dangers of prescription drug abuse might simply be curious to try one out.

Stress and self-medication – those who do know how these drugs affect the brain might start using them as a way to cope with certain stresses and challenges. Many kids and parents alike believe that using stimulants can be a good way to help get better grades, although research usually disputes this. While stimulants help keep teens awake, this is more likely to lead to restlessness, insomnia, and an obsession with the wrong tasks rather than significantly improving a child’s grades. Their drive to study more coupled with better time management might be enough. If your teen really needs to cram, they should stick to caffeine to avoid sleep, and try to better organize themselves. Other drugs might be used as a way to cope with stress without “freaking out”, especially if a teen has anxiety or panic attacks but hasn’t told anyone.

Genetic predisposition – Some people are more likely to abuse drugs and get addicted to them than others. Just as how some people become alcoholics much faster and with much less alcohol than others, there is something about our genes that make us more susceptible to the effects of certain drugs. Some teens might think it’s harmless to try a drug once, just like others, but the effects of the first high might be so pleasurable that it leads to a habit, before eventually becoming an addiction.


of high school seniors used Adderall in 2017


of high school teens said prescription painkillers are easy to get


teenagers believe stimulants work as an effective study aid.

How Can I Help a Teen with Prescription Drug Abuse?

Teach them that they don’t need the drugs – some teens start using prescription drugs for so-called benefits, maybe as a way to fit in, get better grades, or just “feel a little better”. It’s important to try and understand why your teen started using drugs to begin with – not as a way to judge or shame them, but as a way to better understand how you might help them. Most people don’t think of the consequences behind using drugs when they first start. Some of them are driven to desperate circumstances and just don’t have the mental or emotional capacity to care or think about the risks. By knowing why your teen started using to begin with, you can help them understand that they don’t need to continue.

Help them avoid prescription drugs – a drug-free environment is the first step to helping your teen stop abusing drugs. Drug abuse isn’t always indicative of addiction, as it usually takes some time for the brain to get “hooked”. But before that happens, a teen might already be inclined to continue using due to certain emotional issues. Helping them avoid prescription drugs by encouraging them to enroll in residential treatment, continue going to therapy, and seek out alternatives is a good way to help.

Find ways to cope without drugs together – better time management, more time spent doing enjoyable things, and following a therapist’s advice on helping your teen find themselves and figure out their own way through life without drugs is important. Depending on why your teen started using in the first place, most psychiatrists and therapists try to figure out how to help a teen cope with the challenges of being a young adult and facing mounting responsibility without resorting to dangerous vices.

What Types of Teen Prescription Drug Abuse Treatment Are Available?

Similar for treatment for any sort of substance abuse, the most effective teen prescription drug abuse treatment addresses the physical, mental, and behavioral effects of the drug abuse.

Residential Treatment

Because addiction can occur so easily and severely in users, it’s common to need oversight and support, especially while stopping use, as well as experiencing any symptoms of withdrawal from the substance. A professional and attentive staff of doctors and therapists can provide this support by assuring that this transition is as manageable as possible, which will help people through this first challenging stage, as quickly as possible.

Talk Therapy

Therapy can help teens address a number of mental and behavioral issues, including the underlying reasons as to why a teen started using in the first place, and what factors led to the continued use, up until or past addiction. Even in cases where a person may have been prescribed the medicine to begin with, but then began abusing the drug, it’s important to find alternatives both medically and psychologically.

Alternative Treatments

There is more to treatment than therapy and location – sometimes, teens respond best to alternative treatments, such as music therapy or other forms of self-expression. Sports, journaling, and art all have one thing in common – the ability to vent out and release emotion, which can help substantially in the recovery process and throughout life. Therapists can help teens discover useful habits and resources to turn to as ways to deal with stress, conflict, or other life situations, so that they feel empowered to make positive decisions, without needing a substance to cope.

Teen Prescription Drug Abuse Treatment at Paradigm Malibu

Drug abuse almost always points towards a deeper problem. Only a nurturing environment, with a professional staff and the right treatment approach can help a teen completely move past their drug use and embrace better alternatives. By working with parents and their teens, Paradigm Malibu seeks to provide a unique treatment plan that best adheres to each teen’s challenges.

The Right Environment

Set in nature, each of Paradigm Malibu’s locations are conducive to treatment. That means being designed not just as a treatment facility, but as a place teens can feel comfortable in – a temporary home, where they can focus entirely on getting better. It’s hard enough as it is to struggle with drug abuse and figure out how to stay clean – a great environment is key.

Professional and Skilled Staff

Doctors and therapists work hard to help teens by addressing their individual needs, rather than trying to work them through a rigid step-by-step treatment plan. Everyone responds differently, and success relies on finding the right way. What works for some might not work for others, and the staff at Paradigm Malibu are experienced enough to help any teen.

“ When I first went into Paradigm, I believed that showing emotion was a sign of weakness, but quickly learned that it is truly a sign of courage and strength. I was extremely lucky to have Rob, Jay, Jess, Shannon, and Jeff's help. Their advice and kind words have stuck with me for over two years already. Paradigm helped me make changes in my life and break several bad habits. These changes have stuck and will continue to stick for the rest of my life. The Paradigm staff is fantastic, kind, funny, and overall a group of sincerely caring people who are more than willing to listen to your life story, and offer advice if you want it. The help the staff and other teens provide will help you create a more healthy and stable lifestyle. “

– Taylor V.

Frequently Asked Questions About Prescription Drug Abuse

What if I just use a drug once in a while, to help me with school?

The risks always outweigh the benefits when it comes to misusing prescription drugs. Prescription drugs help countless teens get through school by mitigating the symptoms of their mental health issues – real, diagnosed disorders that require medication. While stress, procrastination and academic pressure are all real issues that today’s youth face on a daily basis, prescription drugs actively worsen these issues rather than helping you move past them. If you feel that you struggle from more than just ordinary stress, then go see a medical professional. Not only is it irresponsible to seek out illegal medication, but it’s also not guaranteed to help you out in any real way.

How can I tell that my teen has been abusing prescription drugs?

There are a few things you should ask yourself if you’re wondering if your teen has been taking prescription drugs, or drugs of any kind. Have you discovered any physical evidence that you should be worried? Paraphernalia, missing pills, bottles, or stolen money? Has your teen been acting jittery, irritable, losing weight fast, lacking focus, or have they appeared very restless as of late and missing from events or certain social occasions? Are they avoiding your questions and regularly being tardy or trying to lie? All of these are signs that something is wrong, but they don’t necessarily prove drug use. It’s important to talk to your teen and be earnest with them and get them to tell you the truth – not because you’re ready to punish them, but because you’re worried and want to help. Drug use might seem like a short-term solution to whatever they’re facing, but it never ends well. They need to understand that they’re on a destructive path, and if they really want to feel better, they need help.

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