How People Unknowingly Abuse Drugs

How People Unknowingly Abuse Drugs

3-drug-abuse_2Do 12th graders overdose more on Adderall or cocaine? The answer: Adderall. More youths ages 12–17 die from overdosing on opioid pain killers than they do from illegal drugs such as cocaine. Over-the-counter (OTC) and prescription medications are often found around the home, so teens have easy access to drugs that, when taken inappropriately, could lead to liver injuries, heart complications, or death. The most common OTC drugs are those that contain dextromethorphan, including cough medicine, Mucinex® DM, Tylenol Cough & Cold, and DayQuil™/NyQuil™. Prescription drugs that are commonly abused include pain relievers such Vicodin and OxyContin; ADHD treatment drugs like Adderall, Concerta, and Ritalin; and central nervous system depressants including Valium or Xanax.

How OTC and Prescription Drugs Are Abused

Oftentimes, people abuse prescription and OTC drugs unknowingly. There are three common ways this happens:

  • Taking a medication that has been prescribed for somebody else. Most teenagers who abuse prescription drugs acquire them from by a friend or relative.
  • Taking a drug in a higher quantity or in another manner than prescribed. Tablets usually are taken by mouth, but some users crush up the tablets or snort/ inject the powder, which increases the rate at which the drug is absorbed by the body. This can increase the potency of the medication and result in brain damage and other harmful effects.
  • Taking a drug for another purpose than prescribed. All of the drugs mentioned can produce pleasurable effects if taken in large enough quantities. Getting high is the main reason people abuse these prescription medications.

Students may also take ADHD medications without a prescription to try to improve their grades, but there is little evidence that such drugs enhance academic performance for those without ADHD.

It is important to realize how seemingly harmless actions such as giving a child prescription medication can be considered drug abuse.

How Prescription and OTC Drugs Affect the Brain

When taken as intended, prescription and OTC drugs safely treat mental or physical issues. But when symptoms are not present or when these medications are taken in larger quantities, they can have the same effect on the brain that cocaine or heroin have.

When abused, many prescription medications can increase the amount of dopamine in the brain, which leads to a pleasurable feeling. Repeatedly seeking to feel that sense of happiness can lead to addiction.

Opioids can also depress breathing which, when combined with alcohol, is extremely dangerous. Stimulants can have a strong effect on the heart as well. Taking high doses can dangerously raise body temperature and cause heart attacks and seizures.

Signs of Overdose

The teenage years are marked by hormone changes and can be an emotional roller coaster. Nevertheless, behavioral signs are often still the best indicator as to whether or not a teen is abusing drugs. Such changes include staying up late, moodiness, and changing friends. He or she might also visit drug sites on the web that explain how to obtain and get high off of OTC drugs or prescription medications.

What You Should Do

If you suspect a teen is abusing drugs, consider residential treatment programs. Such programs provide a therapeutic setting where the teen can focus solely on recovery.

If you have questions or would like to discuss any concerns you have regarding your newborn, you can schedule an appointment with Dr. Kathryn Mandal by calling 817-617-8600 or scheduling online at