The drug most commonly abused by teens is not a what, but a where where it is found: right in the medicine cabinets of their own families. Teens do not need street drugs – heroin, methamphetamine, cocaine, and marijuana – if they can pull Oxycontin® and Vicodin® right off their grandmothers’ shelves.

We at the Anthony Louis Center have seen just about every prescription pill turned from helpful to harmful by teenagers.

Teen Prescription Drug Abuse

Family medicine cabinets, relatives’ houses and friends from school are the main sources for the prescription drugs abused by teenagers. Three types of prescription medications are commonly abused:

  1. Depressants: Valium, Xanax, sleep aids
  2. Stimulants: Adderall, Concerta, and Ritalin; other amphetamines used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  3. Opioid: Vicodin, oxycodone, codeine, and others

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the most common category of teenage prescription abuse was amphetamines (8.1 percent), followed closely by a single drug: Adderall (6.8 percent), itself an amphetamine.

Oxycodone Addiction and Vicodin Addiction

Opioids are commonly abused by teenagers because the drugs can not only stop the pain, they can give a quick high to a student not in pain. Drugs like oxycodone (OxyContin, Percocet, Percodan), fentanyl, Demerol, morphine, and tramadol all can give teens a sense of ease and confidence.

Many prescription pills are abused by teens by grinding up the pills, which are then snorted or cooked, dissolved and injected.

Signs of Over-the-Counter Drug Abuse

At the Anthony Louis Center, we advise families to check around the house for signs of teens abusing over-the-counter medicines. Grandma may not be losing her memory; her prescription pills really could be vanishing into your teen’s hands. Your everyday flatware may not be disappearing; your teen could be cooking crushed prescription pills with the missing spoons.

Look for this prescription pill paraphernalia:

  • Lighters
  • Cut-up straws, hollowed-out pens
  • Burnt spoons
  • Small rectangles of tinfoil
  • Pill or herb grinders
  • E-cigarettes

All teenagers go through mood swings, but teens abusing prescription pills also will adopt sneaky behaviors, tell lies, invent stories to explain weird behavior, take money or valuables, and flaunt an “I don’t care” attitude.

An easy “tell” is your teen’s sudden increased interest in visiting relatives’ houses, relatives whose health might mean they have prescriptions for painkillers, sleep aids or stimulants.

If a beloved aunt, uncle or grandparent calls, confused by frequent visits from your teenager, ask the relative to check the medicine cabinet and lock up the medications.


When you confront your worst fears and realize your teenager might be – or is – abusing prescription pills, you may be frozen, unable to deal with it, struggling to find a solution. We know the feeling. We share your pain and concern.

When you reach out to the Anthony Louis Center you are reaching out to experienced hands, here to help. Contact us today to share your burden, get help for your teen and find hope in a securely supported way forward