Commonly Abused Substances


Prescription medications can be helpful—even life saving—when used to treat injury or illness. When abused, prescription drugs can have devastating effects. National studies find that 15 percent of high school seniors reported nonmedical use of at least one prescription medication within the past year. According to the 2007 Minnesota Student Survey, in Dakota County, 10% of 9th and 12th grade boys and 6-7% of 9th and 12th grade girls reported using someone else’s prescription drugs, most often ADHD/ADD drugs or pain relievers such as OxyContin.

Prescription drugs commonly abused by teens include:

  • Narcotics (Darvon, Demerol, OxyContin, Percocet, Vicodin) 
  • Stimulants (Ritalin, Adderall and diet pills) 
  • Sedatives (Quaaludes, Rohypnol, Valium, Xanax) 

Some of the effects of misusing or abusing prescription drugs include: 

  • Dilated pupils 
  • Drowsiness, dizziness and insomnia 
  • Excessive sweating, urination or thirst 
  • Shaking 
  • Nausea and vomiting 
  • Diarrhea 
  • Addiction 
  • Loss of consciousness 
  • Death 

Parents can prevent drug abuse by setting clear expectations and by communicating with their children and teens early.

Tips for Parents

  • Talk to your children and teens; be sure they know you oppose all illicit drug use. 
  • Keep your prescription medications out of reach. They should not be in a place where your children or their friends can find them. Put them in a safe place where only you have access. 
  • Monitor your teen’s behavior by randomly checking up on them to make sure they are where they say they are. Know their friends and their friends’ families. 
  • Monitor the Web sites that your child visits on the Internet; some teens actually order medications via websites. 

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Source: Falkowski, Carol. Dangerous Drugs: A Hazelden Guidebook, 2003.

Energy drinks, such as Red Bull, Venom, and Adrenaline Rush, promise to boost energy and sports performance. Energy drinks are loaded with supplements like ephedrine, ginseng, B vitamins, amino acids or caffeine and are typically packed with sugar. They are very appealing to young people because they claim to be a quick and easy way to increase performance. The boost comes from large amounts of sugar and caffeine. One dietitian explained that the additional 200 calories each day could lead to a 20-pound weight gain over the course of one year. These extra calories can increase the risk for heart disease, elevated blood pressure, type two diabetes and other chronic diseases. 

High caffeine content 
The caffeine content in a single serving of an “energy drink” can range from 72 to 150 mg, however many bottles contain 2-3 servings raising the caffeine content to as high as 294 mg per bottle. Young people should limit their caffeine intake to less than 100 mg per day. Adverse effects associated with excessive caffeine include nervousness, irritability, sleeplessness, increased blood pressure, and abnormal heart rhythms. 

A dangerous combination 
Young people find it appealing to use energy drinks as mixers for alcohol; this is a potentially a dangerous combination. Both are diuretics and can lead to dehydration. Using energy drinks with alcohol can also lead to drinking more alcohol because of the burst of energy, leading the person to feel less intoxicated than they really are. 

What parents should do 
Talk with your teen about the beverages they choose. Discuss the potential health consequences from energy drinks. Encourage low-fat milk with meals to ensure healthy bone density during these important years. A best bet is to encourage drinking water – the ultimate thirst quencher! And if their energy level is low – encourage adequate sleep and physical activity. 

Information compiled by Dakota County Public Health Department, 1/2008