Teen Painkiller Abuse

A survey conducted in 2005 by the National Institute on Drug Abuse showed that there was a 40 percent rise in OxyContin use in only three years time. NIDA continues to monitor the numbers of teens who are using drugs, drinking and smoking through the Monitoring the Future (MTF) Survey by surveying eighth, tenth and twelfth graders nationwide. The 2008 MTF survey showed a growing concern in teen prescription drug abuse. They found that almost 10 percent of seniors reported nonmedical use of Vicodin while 4.7 percent reported abusing OxyContin. Both of these are very powerful painkillers. Seven of the top 10 drugs abused by twelfth graders in the 2007 were prescribed or purchased over-the-counter. Painkillers are a major problem with teens because they are more accessible than many other illegal drugs.

Painkiller Availability

Painkillers are common in teen drug abuse because they are usually readily available to them. Many households keep prescription as well as non-prescription painkillers in their cabinets. It is easy for a teen to sneak a pill or two here and there without anyone noticing. Most painkillers can be dangerous when used improperly. However, if teens have to go to the streets to buy drugs, painkillers can become quite pricy. OxyContin can sell for up to $80 on the street. Many students end up selling clothes and electronics to feed their addiction.

Painkiller Facts

Painkillers, also known as analgesics, are used to relieve pain without causing a loss of consciousness. There are two major categories of painkillers: narcotic and non-narcotic. Narcotic painkillers are typically used for short-term use of relieving severe pain due to surgery, injury or chronic illness. Non-narcotic painkillers are the most common medications that can be prescription or non-prescription. They are used to relieve minimal to moderate pain. There are also medications that contain a combination of narcotic and non-narcotic painkillers. This group is used as an alternative to narcotics when non-narcotics do not work adequately in relieving pain. Opioid painkillers such as: Codeine, OxyContin, Vicodin and Demerol are commonly abused painkillers.


Prevention is important when dealing with teenagers; this time is crucial in preparing for their futures. Keep all prescription medications clearly labeled and away from children and those with a history of drug abuse in a locked cabinet. It is also important to dispose of all unused pills properly so they are not dug back up. The federal government suggests flushing opioid painkillers down the toilet. Other unused medications can be ground and mixed with coffee grounds or kitty litter and thrown away. Failure to follow the steps can lead to becoming dependent on painkillers. (See this painkiller abuse video) for additional info.

Painkiller Warning Signs

If you think your teen may be addicted to painkillers, look for the following warning signs:

  • Forging prescriptions
  • Selling prescriptions
  • Excessive mood swings
  • “Losing” prescriptions often so they have to go to the doctor to get a new one
  • Getting prescriptions from more than one doctor
  • Taking higher doses despite warnings
  • Stealing prescriptions

Why Teens Use Painkillers

The teenage years are often considered the most confusing time in a person’s life. There are several factors that contribute to this emotionally-charged time including:

  • The desire to “fit in” with school mates
  • Peer pressure
  • The need to achieve excellence either academically or on the sports fields
  • Raging hormones
  • The desire to exert their independence
  • The increased awareness of the world around them

While these factors are exerting a negative influence on teens, this also appears to be the time in a child’s life when relying on positive influences such as parents and church diminish. So a teen is left with far too many questions and concerns and far too few places to go to for answers.

This uncertainty is often the reason a teen experiments with drugs in the first place. The attraction of prescription drugs is:

  • The risk to obtain them is quite minimal
  • The illusion that since the drugs were prescribed that can’t be harmful
  • The quality of the product is not suspect as it is with street drugs

For some teens, the effects of the painkiller provide a sense of calmness that may reduce the anxiety that they often feel in this period of uncertainty. This immediate benefit encourages them to continue using the drug and that is when issues of tolerance come into play. While one pill may have provided an expected level of relaxation for the first two to three weeks, a teen finds that after repeated use, they need to increase the dosage to get the same relief.

When a teen is regularly using painkillers, they may not consider the consequences when they have a beer or another alcoholic beverage while taking the pills. The effects of mixing alcohol and painkillers are a variable based on the specific painkiller and the amount of alcohol consumed. Since both substances are depressants, they impact the nervous system, respiratory system and digestive system. By slowing these systems down, a person gets less oxygen, impacts their liver, and puts themselves into a position where they may not think clearly about decisions they make.

Painkiller Addiction Treatment

If you or a loved one is addicted to painkillers and need painkiller addiction treatment, it is important to seek help. Painkillers are highly dependent drugs. Once addicted, the effects are devastating. If you are interested in receiving information on detox or rehab for painkillers, please call our toll free number at 888-371-5713.

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