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Drug and Alcohol: Use and Abuse Research Paper

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Updated: Oct 6th, 2021


Teenagers today confront coping with a broad spectrum of influences on decision-making and behavior. Prescription medication abuse by teens and young adults is a serious problem in the United States. Many teens think these drugs are safe because they have legitimate uses, but taking them without a prescription to get high or “self-medicate” can be as dangerous – and addictive – as using street narcotics and other illicit drugs. [1] There are several studies that have proven beyond doubt that several such influences have potentially negative effects on growth and development. Besides drug abuse has also become a serious problem.

There are several reasons contributing to the fact that some of the individuals particularly the youths are trapped in these negative moral influences. The lack of healthy parental guidance and monitoring is one factor that is contributing to the increasing numbers. Several studies suggest that conditions such as poverty, unemployment, poor education, discrimination, and despair lay the foundation for alcohol and other drug-related problems. A coordinated effort from the family, schools, and society is essential in order to create willingness among individuals for a change. It is also important to focus on increasing the skills or abilities of teenagers and it is equally vital to focus on changing and improving social systems that create these conditions. This paper will examine teen drug abuse in today’s society involving prescription drug abuse in the medicine cabinet and also suggest some remedial measures that need to be taken to prevent teenagers from these self-defeating habits.


Drug and alcohol abuse is a common problem around the world and teenagers are mainly facing this problem of decision making and behavior. Many teenagers’ social environments have been linked with participation in potentially “at-risk” behaviors such as the use of alcohol, tobacco, and marijuana (Hundleby and Mercer, 151-64). Globally, drug abuse is also linked with street gangs and drug trafficking and has become a major cause of concern. The most vulnerable sector in society is the youth.

While some communities acknowledge difficulties in dealing with the teenage problem, they fail to concede that they have a problem until the gangs become firmly deep-rooted. Trade-in drugs of abuse such as cocaine, heroin, and amphetamines (synthetic stimulants) have long been a frustrating feature, especially in the third world. However today it is prescription drug use and abuse that is emerging as a major problem that is going unchecked. It is such a difficult situation to differentiate the user from the abuse.

There are studies that have proven beyond doubt that the use of prescription drugs can have potentially negative effects on growth and development. The prescription drugs that are most frequently abused by teens are painkillers, depressants, and stimulants. Painkillers are in general powerful narcotics given to treat pain such as those drugs prescribed after surgery. Depressants, such as sleeping pills or anti-anxiety drugs are common prescription drugs that are given to treat depression or mood swings and stimulants are mainly prescribed to treat attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) (Office of National Drug Control Policy, 2008).

Some of the statistics from different studies are as follows:

  • An estimated 1 in 5 teens has abused a prescription pain medication
  • 1 in 5 teenagers reported abusing prescription stimulants and tranquilizers
  • And 1 in 10 has misused cough medication (Partnership for a Drug-Free America, 2008)
  • A study by NSDUH (2007) said that in 2006, more than 2.1 million teens abused prescription drugs and one-third of all new abusers of prescription drugs in 2006 were between the age of 12 and 17-year-olds.
  • Since prescription drugs are easily accessible when compared to drugs such as marijuana, cocaine, and heroin it was found that 3 % of teens between the age of 12 and 17 reported abuse of prescription drugs in 2006, following only marijuana (7%) and well ahead of cocaine (0.4%), ecstasy (0.3%), meth (0.2%), and heroin (0.1%). (NSDUH, 2007)
  • Prescription drugs are the drug of choice among 12- to 13-year-olds. (NSDUH, 2007)
  • According to another study it was found that every day 2,500 youth between the age of 12 and 17 abuse prescription pain killers for the very first time. (SAMHSA, 2007a) (Office of National Drug Control Policy, 2008)

If we have to examine why this trend is growing especially among teenagers, it is important to study them from various perspectives. There are several reasons contributing to the fact that some of the individuals particularly the youths are trapped in these negative moral influences. One of the most important reasons for this is the lack of strong parental guidance and monitoring.

Some teenagers have psychological problems which make their social and academic success difficult which in turn results in them using these drugs. In other cases, they attend disorganized and disruptive schools and fail to engage in academic pursuits. Peer pressure is a major problem that many teenagers face. Some of them live in unsystematic neighborhoods with few funds or outlets for positive social activities and others are disqualified from peer groups and have few if any, wholesome friends.

Today, many teens are under the impression that these drugs are safe since they have legitimate uses. However, they do not know the fact that taking them without a prescription to get high or self-medicate is as perilous and addictive as using narcotics and other illegal drugs (Partnership for a Drug-Free America, 2008). The increasing trend of use of prescription drugs by teens is turning them away from street drugs but they are failing to realize that prescription drugs are also as perilous as illicit drugs. The easy availability of these drugs in the family medicine cabinet that includes prescription (Rx) and over-the-counter (OTC) drugs is one of the reasons for this trend.

There are different ways in which youth may get involved with prescription drugs. During the initial stage or the experimental stage, these drugs can turn out to be very dangerous, since they ignore the effects of these drugs. For instance, if a teenager uses the drug for cough in a high dose and goes on a ride, it may result in road accidents. Teenagers often do not think of their actions the consequences of their actions that can affect their life drastically.

There are also some teens who will experiment and stop, but some of them get addicted or and may continue to use occasionally without any significant problem. Those teenagers who get addicted are the ones that need immediate intervention and help to learn to make better decisions. However, it is almost impossible to forecast which teens will experiment and stop and which ones will develop serious problems. For instance, one of my cousins- Michel began the use of cough medicine on regular basis. Then he began the use of the painkillers that were used by his mother for the arthritis problem without the knowledge of what these medicines are used for. His parents were ignorant about this fact until the problem was serious and they had to take him for treatment. It is important for parents to know what their teens are doing and who they are doing it with.

Though it is difficult to identify these problems following are some warning signs of teenagers at risk for developing serious prescription drug addiction:

  • “A family history of substance or alcohol abuse
  • Depression
  • Low self-esteem
  • Feel like they don’t fit in and are not popular with the mainstream
  • frequently feel sluggish and have difficulty sleeping
  • Aggressive and rebellious attitude toward authority figures” (Teen drug abuse blogs, 2008)

Parents who notice or are aware of these signs need to be very careful and if they realize that their child has one or more of the above behaviors, they should rush to seek help from a professional. This is because parents and caregivers are the first line of defense in addressing this troubling trend. Just because these drugs are so readily available and are sometimes easily accessible from the family medicine cabinet many teens today believe they are a safe way to get high and this is one of the reasons that teens who are not using illicit drugs might end up the abuse of prescription drugs. In fact, studies show that not many parents are talking to them about it, even though teens report that parental disapproval is a powerful way to keep them away from drugs (Partnership for Drug-free America, 2007).

If we look at the modes of obtaining these prescription drugs, as mentioned earlier it is commonly from the family medicine cabinet. In some cases with the development of internet technologies, these prescription drugs are easily obtained over the Internet. Some of them get it free from friends or taking them from someone’s medicine cabinet. According to an analysis of national surveys prepared by Walters’ office “while the use of marijuana declined from 30.1 percent to 25.8 percent from 2002 to 2006, use of OxyContin, a painkiller, increased from 2.7 percent to 3.5 percent over the same period. Use of Vicodin, another painkiller, increased slightly from 6 percent to 6.3 percent”.

This study also found that teens are also abusing stimulants like Adderall and anti-anxiety drugs like Xanax because they are readily available and supposed as safer than street drugs. According to Dr. Terry Horton, the medical director of Phoenix House, who operates nearly 100 substance abuse programs in nine states, said “the belief that prescription drugs are safer than street drugs is false. These medicines cause dependence and addiction when misused and have the potential to cause death,” he said. “We’re talking about medicines that are related, pharmacologically, to heroin and have very similar effects.” (msnbc.msn.com, 2007)

Long-term studies have found that prescription drugs have serious health risks on regular use. Hence there is no doubt that these will have a similar or serious impact on abuse. A single overdose of prescription or over-the-counter (OTC) painkillers or depressants can cause serious problems such as respiratory difficulty that can lead to even death. Further, it is also found that stimulant abuse can result in aggression or obsession. There are also chances that these drugs have the potential for heart system failure or fatal seizures. Researchers have also found that even in small doses, depressants and painkillers have subtle effects on motor skills, judgment, and also it can hamper the ability of teenagers to learn.

Studies also point out that the abuse of OTC cough and cold remedies can cause blurred vision, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, coma, and even death. There are also cases where many teens are found to mixing prescription drugs, OTC drugs, and alcohol. This can not only harm their entire system but also at times cause mental instability. Besides, these combinations can cause respiratory failure and death. According to a study conducted between 1995 and 2005, treatment admissions for prescription painkillers increased more than 300 percent (SAMHSA, 2007).

There are several ways to prevent these things from preventing teens or any other person from getting involved with prescription drug abuse. The best thing and the first step towards this are to keep prescription drugs in a safe place under a lock and key system. It is important not to put them in the medicine cabinet in common places because that is the first place teenagers will look. Secondly, once it is conformed that the teens are into such habits it is important to have an open conversation with them and warn them of the dangers of prescription drug abuse.

The following are few important subjects that need to be shared with the teen about prescription medications:

  • Drugs taken without a prescription or a physician’s supervision can be just as hazardous as taking illicit drugs.
  • Abusing these drugs whether it is painkillers or stimulants or any of the OTC drugs is like abusing heroin because their ingredients are similar. Some of these contain harmful substances called opiates.
  • When these drugs are taken without prescriptions by a normal individual it can be deadly.
  • Mixing up drugs with alcohol and other drugs can have serious consequences on health and mental stability. These may also result in allergic reactions to different chemicals when they are mixed together (Teen drug abuse blogs, 2008)

According to some of the recent surveys it was found that up to 60% of students receiving legitimate prescriptions had been approached to divert their medications. About 1 in 10 traded medication. A smaller proportion sold it, and as many as 25% gave it to friends or family members. This study was conducted among more than 1,000 middle and high school students.

According to Dr. Michael Miller, editor in chief of the Harvard Mental Health Letter, says that “What helps an anxious child may be poison for a substance-abusing child, but sometimes the two illnesses occur in the same child. Thus a simple solution like reducing the total number of prescriptions cannot work. The real task is to figure out which kids need which medicines and make sure that only those kids get the medicines. Not easy.” (Harvard health publications, 2007)

Other than the intentional abuse of prescription drugs by teens, researchers have found that:

  • “Use of heroin by youths and young adults has increased, as shown in the rise of “cheese heroin” (a mixture of Tylenol PM and heroin) in Dallas.
  • Methamphetamine has spread from the Pacific Coast eastward.
  • Abuse of the tranquilizer Xanax and the muscle relaxant Soma has increased.
  • The use of Ecstasy has increased as the drug spreads from the club scene to the street.
  • Crack cocaine users are now more likely to be white or Hispanic than African American.
  • Alcohol and cocaine are the primary drugs for which Texans enter treatment”. (Office of Public Affairs, 2007)

Experts are of the opinion that the increasing trend of abuse of prescription drugs is because physicians are prescribing more drugs for more health problems. Secondly, online pharmacies make it easy to get prescription drugs without a prescription, even for teenagers. Therefore, anyone having access to the internet can obtain these drugs without much problem. Drugs such as Vicodin, OxyContin, and Xanax are among the drugs that are most likely to be abused. There are also reports of teenagers and young adults mixing Xanax with cola drinks and some are taking Vicodin before they start drinking to get drunker faster. These drugs are often seen in fatal traffic accident reports (Office of Public Affairs, 2007).

Since most of the prescription drug problem begins from home it is easy for parents, teachers, and other social workers to prevent it by creating awareness. Additionally, it is also important to recognize the signs and symptoms of prescription drug abuse and encourage parents and other adults to:

  • “Safeguard all drugs in their homes by a lock and key system. Monitor quantities and control access.
  • Set clear rules for teens regarding all drug use, including not distributing medicine and for all time following the medical provider’s counsel and dosages.
  • Set the same set of rules for rules and be a role model with their own medicines.
  • Properly cover and dispose of expired or unused medicines in the trash.
  • Take the help of friends and family members to safeguard their prescription drugs as well (PTA, 2008).

Above all, it is also important to understand the mindset of the teens as to why they take up such dangerous tasks. Some of them use alcohol and other drugs for impressing their peer group. This is an age when most of them want to behave like adults and also take risks. Teens tend to try new things and take risks because it seems exciting.

There are also studies that show that teens with family members who have problems with alcohol or other drugs are into trouble to have serious substance abuse problems. Teens are in a move to show their importance in family and also the peer group. They want to be always noticed and recognized for their acts. Therefore, those teens who feel that they are not connected to or valued by their parents are at greater risk of drug abuse. Additionally, there are also studies that show that teens with poor self-esteem or emotional or mental health problems, such as depression, easily fall into such risky behavior.

The impact of drug and alcohol abuse can have serious consequences on the entire life of a person. It is found that substance abuse can result in problems such as poor schoolwork, loss of friends, problems at home, and lasting legal problems. Alcohol and drug abuse is a foremost reason for teen death or injury related to accidents, suicides, violence, and drowning. Besides substance abuse can add to the risk of pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), including HIV, because of unprotected sex. And teens are the most vulnerable to all these problems (WebMD 2008).


Several studies show that conditions such as poverty, unemployment, poor education, inequity, and hopelessness place the foundation for alcohol and other drug-related problems. Therefore, it is important that a coordinated effort from the family, schools, and society is necessary to create awareness about the harmful short-term and long-term impact on individuals. Simultaneously, it is also vital to focus on the rising skills and abilities of teenagers and to focus on changing and improving social systems that create these conditions.

The steps parents can take to educate and communicate with their teens regarding prescription drug abuse are as follows:

  • Parents need to create awareness among the teens that the prescription drugs present in their home are for specific purposes and if taken without the physician’s advice it can have serious problems.
  • These drugs need to be kept in a separate cabinet under the lock and key system.
  • It is important to keep a check on the number of prescription drugs purchased and consumed by adults.
  • Expired or unwanted drugs need to be disposed of safely.
  • Should not stock drugs for a long time.
  • Keep a watch on the teens and their peer groups.

A questionnaire parents

  1. Name of parent
  2. Parent’s Educational Level (years of studies)
  3. Have you ever had a member of your family suffering from a mental disorder, depression, arthritis, or any other pains?
  4. Do you have drugs prescribed by the physicians for the above problems stored in your house?
  5. If yes, are they kept under a lock and key system?
  6. If no, do you keep a check on the quantity of these drugs?
  7. Do you believe that psychotropic drugs may cause more damage to children, due to their age?
  8. Age of teenagers
  9. Do you find any symptoms of abuse of prescription drugs by your teenagers? If yes, list them.
  10. What are the sources of these drugs for them?
  11. Do you have frequent talks with teenagers on issues such as drug abuse, teenage sex, violence, and other social problems?
  12. What are the sources of help that you have?
  13. Have you ever used unwanted drugs without the prescription of a physician?
  14. Does your spouse use drugs without the prescription of a physician?
  15. Do you order drugs through the internet?


Harvard health publications, (2007) Teen prescription drug abuse. Web.

Hundleby J. D. and Mercer G. W., (1987) Family and Friends as Social Environments and Their Relationship to Young Adolescents’ Use of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Marijuana,” Journal of Marriage and the Family, XLIX, 151-64.

msnbc.msn.com, (2007) Teen abuse of prescription drugs holds steady, The Associated Press. Web.

Office of National Drug Control Policy, (2008) Prescription for danger: A Report on the Troubling Trend of Prescription and Over-the-Counter Drug Abuse Among the Nation’s Teens, Web.

Office of Public Affairs, (2007) Feature Story: Generation Rx. Web.

PTA, (2008) What Parents Need to Know About Teen Prescription Drug Use, Web.

Partnership for Drug-free America, (2007) Partnership Attitude Tracking Study [PATS] 2007.

Partnership for a Drug-Free America, (2008) Prescription medicine abuse: A serious problem. Web.

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration [SAMHSA] (2007).

National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 2006. Office of Applied Studies.

Teen drug abuse, (2005) Teenage Prescription Drug Abuse. Web.

WebMD (2008) Alcohol Abuse Health Center. Web.

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