Prescription drug misuse is when someone takes a medication that was prescribed for someone else or takes their own prescription in a way not intended by a doctor or for a different reason—like to get high. It has become a big health issue because of the dangers, particularly the danger of misusing prescription pain medications. For teens, it is a growing problem:
- After marijuana and alcohol, prescription drugs are the most commonly misused substances by Americans age 14 and older.
- Teens misuse prescription drugs for a number of reasons, such as to get high, to stop pain, or because they think it will help them with school work.
- Most teens get prescription drugs they misuse from friends and relatives, sometimes without the person knowing.
- Boys and girls tend to misuse some types of prescription drugs for different reasons. For example, boys are more likely to abuse prescription stimulants to get high, while girls tend to abuse them to stay alert or to lose weight.
When prescription drugs are taken as directed, they are usually safe. It requires a trained health care clinician, such as a doctor or nurse, to determine if the benefits of taking the medication outweigh any risks for side effects. But when misused and taken in different amounts or for different purposes than as prescribed, they affect the brain and body in ways very similar to illicit drugs.
When prescription drugs are misused, they can be addictive and put the person at risk for other harmful health effects, such as overdose (especially when taken along with other drugs or alcohol). And, misusing prescription drugs is illegal—and that includes sharing prescriptions with family members or friends.