7 Legal Drugs Abused by Teens

  • 7 Legal Drugs Abused by Teens
    According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, 7 out of the top 10 drugs abused in America are legal. They include prescription drugs, over-the-counter (OTC) drugs, and herbal drugs. Almost 3% of kids ages 12 to 17 admit to abusing a prescription drug in the past month, and 12% of teens admit to abusing OTC cough and cold medicines. To keep teens safe, learn about seven of the most commonly abused drugs by teens in America.


  • 1. Prescription Stimulants
    Using any prescription drug other than exactly as your doctor directs is a form of drug abuse. Doctors legally prescribe stimulants for conditions such as attention deficit disorder. Teens abuse these drugs to feel energized, but abuse can lead to brain damage, seizures, and heart problems. The most commonly abused legal stimulant is amphetamine and dextroamphetamine (Adderall). Almost 8% of 12 th graders have tried it. The street name is speed.


  • 2. Prescription Pain Medicines
    These drugs are opioids because they originate from opium, the same source as heroin. Many teens think that prescription drugs are safer than street drugs. But opiates can cause addiction and lead to overdose, just like heroin. The two most commonly abused legal opiates are hydrocodone (Vicodin and others) and oxycodone (OxyContin and others). Teens take these drugs because they cause a relaxed and pleasant high called euphoria. Greater than 7% of 12 th graders admit to using Vicodin in the past year.


  • 3. OTC Cough Medicine
    Dextromethorphan (DXM) is a cough suppressant found in nearly 100 OTC cough and cold formulas. At 25 to 50 times the normal dose, it can cause a dangerous high. Pure DXM in a powder is sold on the street and on websites. Kids abuse DXM because it causes hallucinations and a feeling of floating away from reality. It also causes dangerous side effects and panic attacks. Almost 6% of 12 th graders say they've been high from cough medicine.


  • 4. Prescription Depressants
    Doctors usually prescribe tranquilizers and sedatives for people with seizures, anxiety, or insomnia. Kids may abuse them for their drowsy and calming effects. Brand names include Nembutal, Valium, Xanax, Ambien, and Lunesta. Abuse of depressants can slow down your heart and breathing to dangerous levels. They can be especially deadly when combined with alcohol. About 2% of 12 th graders report using a sedative or tranquilizer in the past month.


  • 5. Salvia
    Salvinorin A is a drug found in salvia, an herb that grows in Mexico and South America. People smoke or chew salvia leaves. Although the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) is looking closely at this drug, it currently is not illegal. Teens use the drug because it causes hallucinations and a distorted sense of reality. The effects only last a few minutes, but may cause long-term learning and memory problems. In 2009, almost 6% of high school seniors reported trying salvia.


  • 6. Anabolic Steroids
    Anabolic steroids are legal drugs that doctors may prescribe for anemia or for men with low testosterone. Teens abuse these drugs to build muscles or improve athletic performance. Sometimes teens use up to 100 times the normal dose. Dangers include shrunken testicles for men, facial hair growth for women, and kidney and liver damage. Almost 2% of high school seniors have tried anabolic steroids.


  • 7. Tobacco and Alcohol
    No list would be complete without nicotine and alcohol. They are both drugs and they are both legal. Almost 40% of 12 th graders have smoked cigarettes in their lifetime and about 9% smoke every day. About 40% of 12 th graders admit to drinking alcohol in the past month. Abusing alcohol kills brain cells and damages almost every important organ in the human body.


  • Getting Help for Drug Abuse
    Drug abuse in teens can cause addiction, physical problems, mental health problems, and serious legal problems. Help is available if you or someone you know is abusing any drug, legal or otherwise. Counselors, doctors, social workers, and other mental health providers have training to treat drug abuse. Talk to your primary care doctor or call the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s Treatment Referral Helpline at 800-662-HELP.


7 Legal Drugs Abused by Teens
  1. Drug Facts - Anabolic Steroids. NIDA for Teens. http://teens.drugabuse.gov/drug-facts/anabolic-steroids 
  2. Drug Facts - Prescription Depressant Medications. NIDA for Teens. http://teens.drugabuse.gov/drug-facts/central-nervous-system-cns-depressants
  3. Drug Facts - Prescription Pain Medications (Opioids). NIDA for Teens. (http://teens.drugabuse.gov/drug-facts/opioids-and-pain-reliever-facts); http://teens.drugabuse.gov/drug-facts/opioids-and-pain-relievers
  4. Drug Facts - Prescription Drugs. NIDA for Teens. http://teens.drugabuse.gov/drug-facts/prescription-drugs
  5. Drug Facts - Salvia. NIDA for Teens. http://teens.drugabuse.gov/drug-facts/salvia
  6. Dextromethorphan: Preventing Teen Cough Medicine Abuse. Consumer Healthcare Products Association. http://www.chpa.org/DXMTeens.aspx
  7. Commonly Abused Drugs Charts. National Institutes of Health. National Institute on Drug Abuse. http://www.drugabuse.gov/drugs-abuse/commonly-abused-drugs-charts
  8. Full Report and Key Findings: 2013 Partnership Attitude Tracking Study, sponsored by MetLife Foundation. Partnership for Drug-Free Kids. http://www.drugfree.org/newsroom/pats-2013-full-report-key-findings
  9. Cough Medicine Abuse by Teens. University of Rochester Medical Center. https://www.urmc.rochester.edu/encyclopedia/content.aspx?ContentTypeID=1&ContentID=2617
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Last Review Date: 2019 Aug 12
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