The Prescription Medications Most Parents Don’t Realize Their Kids Are Misusing

You’re familiar with what illegal substances look like — a mysterious white powder or bottle of liquid in your kid’s backpack would surely give you reason to sit them down for a chat. While illicit drugs are still a problem country-wide, they’re not all you have to watch for. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, prescription misuse is the fastest growing drug problem in the nation. And it’s not just the adults that are reaching for bottles of pills — it’s also teens.

Teens and prescription drugs

many teenagers together

Many young adults misuse prescription drugs.| iStock.com/Rawpixel

The National Institute of Drug Abuse found some alarming data when it came to teens and prescription pills. Just last year, 12% of 12th graders reported taking any kind of Rx drug that was not prescribed to them by a doctor, with amphetamines being the most common. So, why is it such a problem? Well, teens tend to think if a doctor gives out the drug, it’s safer to take than the street drugs they’ve been told to avoid. The issue here is they can be just as addictive and harmful.

Interested to see what your teen might be taking? Here are the top prescription medications to have on your radar.

Next: This drug is often prescribed after surgery.

12. OxyContin

Pile of prescription pills spilling from open pill bottle.

OxyContin is highly addictive — and it’s easier to get than you think. | iStock.com/AndroMachi

This pain medication is one of the most commonly misused of prescription pills. While some teens may go into their parents’ medicine cabinets and grab it for themselves, there’s more to it. CNBC reports there were 131 million more opioid pain reliever scripts written in 2013 than there were in 1991. And you can be as young as 11 years old and obtain an OxyContin prescription after surgery. Prescription pain meds are a slippery slope to dangerous street drugs, too.

Next: Most teens assume this prescription medication isn’t dangerous.

11. Ritalin

housewife eating pills

Ritalin is prescribed for those with ADHD, but it’s often misused, too. | iStock.com/CentralITAlliance

Kids with ADHD can certainly benefit from Ritalin, but unfortunately, there are many teens who are using the drug for other purposes. ABC News reports many young adults use this drug for weight loss, to get high, or to help them study for their exams. Some teens are even going so far as to fake symptoms so doctors will write them a prescription. Subsequently, emergency room visits due to Ritalin are on the rise.

Jacob Stone, a high school student who previously misused Ritalin, told the publication a lot of younger kids were interested in it because they didn’t see it to be as dangerous as other drugs. In reality, it can have cocaine-like effects in those who don’t need it and take too much. Many parents are in the dark about this misuse — don’t be one of them.

Next: Addiction is just part of the problem with these pills.

10. Weight-loss pills

young healthy girl on home scales

Some teens use weight-loss pills due to societal pressures. | iStock.com/nensuria

Teenagers are under immense pressure — between school, their parents and peers, there’s a strong desire to fit in with the cool crowd. This can lead many to take weight-loss pills unnecessarily. Over-the-counter varieties can be dangerous, but be particularly wary if you have your own prescription weight-loss supplements around your home. AddictionCenter.com says Didrex is a common diet pill that has the potential for dependence and addiction because it can also cause a euphoric feeling.

Next: Overdosing on this painkiller can result in a coma.

9. Vicodin

bottle pouring pills

Vicodin has a purpose, but unfortunately, it’s easy for kids to get ahold of. | iStock.com/theevening

Here’s another painkiller that many health professionals believe is over-prescribed. Narconon International reports one in five teens in high school has tried Vicodin, even though it’s well-known for being highly addictive. So, why are kids today abusing it? It’s made of two parts — hydrocodone and acetaminophen. The hydrocodone gives them euphoria, while the acetaminophen relieves pain. If your child does become addicted to Vicodin, things can escalate quickly — it can cause convulsions, seizures, or coma in the event of an overdose.

Next: Do you really know what your kids do to relieve stress?

8. Xanax

parent yelling at her teenage daughter

Some stressed young adults may turn to Xanax for relief. | iStock.com/doble-d

Most teens don’t talk about this drug by its proper name — it’s more common to hear it referred to as “zannies,” “bars,” or “downers.” No matter which name you hear it by, Xanax has been a huge problem among teens and young adults for quite some time now. The Teen Treatment Center explains this prescription is typically given to those who have sleep troubles or panic attacks. But, many kids will use this drug to ease the stress of school, friends, and family. And when taken with alcohol, the combination can be lethal.

Because prescription meds can all look the same, here’s something to keep in mind if you need to identify a pill: Xanax are typically football shaped and have the name imprinted on them.

Next: Adding alcohol to the equation makes things even worse.

7. Valium

Woman Suffering From Depression Sitting On Bed And Crying

Some kids think Valium is safer than other prescriptions, but it isn’t. | iStock.com/monkeybusinessimages

Not all teens go for painkillers when misusing drugs — some go for prescriptions like Valium because they view it as being less dangerous than OxyContin or Vicodin. In fact, Newport Academy reports a good number of teens believe their parents wouldn’t even care if they were heavily taking Valium. While kids may like this prescription drug because it makes them feel relaxed after a stressful day of school, it can cause the body’s systems to become dangerously slow. And when taken with alcohol, it can cause major breathing issues and prove fatal.

Next: A planner, internet access, and textbooks aren’t the only study aids students are using.

6. Adderall

student studying

Adderall is commonly used to help kids focus. | iStock.com

Late-night studying and hours of homework can be tough on teens and young adults. While some are able to hunker down and get it done with just an energy drink, others may use Adderall to help them get through the sleepless nights. U.S. News & World Report says Adderall use among high school seniors is extremely high — 7.5% of them were using it in 2015, often as a way to help them study.

And Adderall is easier to obtain than ever — more doctors are prescribing this med for ADHD, and kids who don’t have the diagnosis are getting it from friends. It’s definitely one to watch out for.

Next: Even seemingly harmless medications have a dark side.

5. Codeine cough syrup

Girl taking cough syrup in bed

Cough syrup with codeine can be very dangerous when abused. | iStock.com

If you have prescription-strength cough medicines containing codeine in your cabinets, you should know it’s not uncommon to mix these with soda to form a dangerous drink, the National Institute on Drug Abuse for Teens reports. Many kids think a little cough syrup isn’t enough to seriously hurt them, but misusing Codeine can lead to slowed breathing and impaired function of the heart. You’re better off checking with a pediatrician to see what they recommend.

Next: This drug is stronger than you might expect.

4. Nembutal

Silhouette of sad teenage girl

Nembutal abuse is on the rise, so beware. | iStock.com/max-kegfire

This prescription medication isn’t as popular as a few others, but it’s seeing a rise among teens, reports The Oaks at La Paloma Treatment Center. Nembutal has an anti-anxiety effect that makes it attractive to those under a lot of stress, but it can also be very problematic. In Oregon, this drug is used for physician-assisted suicide — that’s how strong it can be. And if used often enough, it can be easy to form a habit out of taking this pill.

Take note if your child is extremely fatigued, delirious, or wobbly. These are signs of a Nembutal overdose, but they’re also signs of other sleeping pill abuse. It never hurts to be aware.

Next: You won’t believe how teens are using this medication.

3. Ambien

Glass prescription bottle with pills

This sleep medication can have serious consequences when used the wrong way. | iStock.com/Jeng_Niamwhan

Other prescription drugs on this list might be on your radar more than Ambien, so it may surprise you to know this sleep medication is also commonly used among teens. In 2008, Newsweek talked to one teen who took Ambien in high school. He had his own prescription but would often crush the pills and snort them for a more extreme effect, or he’d share them with friends. His addiction to prescription pills even lead him to a suicide attempt later on.

If your child has a prescription, make sure they’re taking it properly. Watch for slips in grades or physical symptoms that may indicate something’s up.

Next: Parents with seriously stressed teens need to watch out for this next one.

2. Klonopin

woman in her bed

Klonopin is generally safe, but it can be extremely addictive when taken improperly. | Thinkstock

This sedative is often prescribed for severe anxiety and seizures, and when taken appropriately, it’s quite safe. Unfortunately, Muir Wood Teen notes it’s another commonly misused prescription among adolescents. Klonopin’s effects last longer than many other tranquilizers, and it can give off a euphoric feeling that a lot of stressed teens may seek out.

What’s even scarier is physical and psychological dependency can occur very quickly — within two to four weeks, you can start to feel addicted to this drug. Things get even more serious if your teen is combining this drug with other sedatives, so be on the lookout if they seem drowsier than usual.

Next: Monitoring how often your child takes this prescription is a good idea.

1. Percocet

surgeons during surgery

Your child might be prescribed Percocet following surgery, so make sure they’re taking it as they should. | iStock.com

Since painkillers are commonly taken improperly among the youth, it’s important to not forget Percocet. Greenleaf Hospital says most teens who take this prescription med get it from other family members, and using it may cause physical symptoms like weight loss or poor coordination. Even if your child has been prescribed Percocet following surgery, it never hurts to keep an eye on how often they’re taking the medication. Using it improperly can cause withdrawal symptoms, and an overdose can be fatal.

Next: Do you know how to recognize the signs your child is misusing drugs?

Risk factors

doctor holding medication

Know if your child could be at risk for abusing prescription drugs. | iStock.com

Let’s face it — there are only so many aspects of your child’s life you can control. Between school, after-school activities, and friends, it’s tough to know if they’re coming across any illicit substances outside of the home. Before going into panic parent mode, you should consider which risk factors you can and can’t control, and how to best arm your child with enough knowledge to say no to drugs.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse says aggressive behavior early on in life could be an indicator your child might be more tempted to use these substances. Also, paying attention to what your child is up to and monitoring their behavior can help. You should then consider the community around you — does your child’s school have a good anti-drug program? Are there a lot of substances circling through your neighborhood?

No matter what your circumstances, maintain a strong parent-child bond and stay active in their life so they can remain happy and healthy.

Next: There’s still hope.

What you can do for a child using prescription drugs

Doctor is making notes while listening to his patient

You can get help for your child. | iStock.com/vadimguzhva

Maybe you have all the evidence you need to know your child is misusing a prescription medication, but now you’re unsure of how to handle the situation. The National Institute on Drug Abuse recommends seeking professional help immediately by contacting a regular doctor or an addictions specialist. The medical professional will then be the one to ask your teen a series of questions about the medications. This doesn’t need to be confrontational either — oftentimes, teens are more likely to listen to professionals than their parents, so don’t be afraid to seek outside help.

From here, you may want to enter your child into a treatment center where they can get the help they need. A mixture of medications and therapy are usually very beneficial for those with addictions.

Read More: 15 Rx Meds With Some of the Most Dangerous Side Effects