Drugs. We all know it’s a problem. But when teens hear ‘drugs’, they think of ‘real drugs’ like heroine, cocaine, or marijuna (and even that last one isn’t always considered a drug). Prescription drugs, not so much.

There’s a hidden drug problem, the danger of popping pills. Students take prescription drugs from friends to get them through exams, to help them perform in sports, or to stay awake after long nights. ADHD meds are notorious, like Ritalin and Adderall. Pain killers are a major problem, especially for students who play sports on a competitive level. And even straight-A students may be tempted to take ‘boosters’ to help them achieve even better results.

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Only 14% of students say their parents talked to them about the dangers of popping pills, of abusing prescription drugs. At the same time, statistics vary, but a safe bet is that at least 1 in 10 students abuse ADHD meds. And abusing prescription meds can have serious consequences. For pain killers, there’s a high risk of getting addicted. For other meds, there’s risk of high blood pressure, increased heart rate, interaction with other meds or stimulants.

What can you do as a youth worker? First of all, educate the parents in your group on the dangers of popping pills. It’s an issue parents need to be aware of, that they need to discuss with their teens. Trouble signs to look for are weight loss, changes in behavior and an altered sleeping behavior. Also, but this is much harder to accomplish, parents need to become more aware of the pressure of their expectations and how this will affect their kids.

Secondly, talk to your teens about this. It’s the high achievers that are most at risk here, the students who want to perform well in exams of sports, who are working very hard to get high grades, scholarships, who want to ace their SAT’s. Open a conversation about the dangers of prescription drugs, and even more important: about expectations and how to deal with pressure in a healthy way.