Girls and Boys Have Different Reasons for Prescription Drug Use

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Recent research shows that American teen girls have caught up with boys in their rates of smoking cigarettes and drinking alcohol, which hasn’t always been the case. Here’s something else: teenage girls are now more likely than boys to abuse prescription drugs like pain pills and ADHD medications. The thing is—they have different reasons for doing so.

NIDA researchers surveyed hundreds of teens and asked them about their motivations for using particular prescription drugs. For stimulants like ADHD medications, for example, the young men were more likely to abuse them to get high or experiment, while for young women, it was to help them concentrate or stay alert. In other words, the young women were more likely “self-treat” for a specific purpose.

So what’s wrong with that? They’re prescribed by a doctor, after all—how dangerous can they be?

For one thing, when you borrow someone else’s medication or even take your own in a way that wasn’t prescribed, you put yourself at risk for scary side effects that can change your heart rhythm and breathing. And although prescription drugs may seem safer than street drugs, they still can lead to addiction and even death, especially when they’re mixed with other drugs or alcohol.

Do you have a friend who abuses prescription drugs? Do your own survey—ask them why, and let us know what you find out.

Find Help Near You

Use the SAMHSA Treatment Locator to find substance use or other mental health services in your area. If you are in an emergency situation, this toll-free, 24-hour hotline can help you get through this difficult time: call 1-800-273-TALK, or visit the Suicide Prevention Lifeline. We also have step by step guides on what to do to help yourself, a friend or a family member.

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