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Prescription Pills: The New Drug of Choice for Teens

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Everyday Abuse continued...

The ways kids are taking the drugs now underscores this relaxed attitude. "We're finding that teens are no longer holding exclusive 'pharm parties,' where they'd get together and bring all the pills they could find, the way they did in years past," says the Aspen Achievement Academy's Faddis. Instead, they take them throughout the day, as a routine part of life. "School was really stressful, so kids would pop pills or snort Adderall during class to make it go faster," explains Anders Torgersen, 17, of Huntington Beach, CA. Torgersen asserts that when he was an athlete and top student at a strict private middle school, pressure to excel led him to start taking prescription drugs. "I loved Vicodin because it made me feel like God," he says. "If I punched a wall, I couldn't feel it. I had more power and confidence on the pills." He began dealing the meds in his freshman year of high school. He estimates that 70 percent of his schoolmates used drugs.

As Ryan Haight's and Torgersen's experiences suggest, any kid — even bright, motivated high achievers — can be lured by prescription drugs. But experts do see some common threads. "Many of our students have self-esteem issues. They start using the pills as a way of self-medicating for school or family problems and underlying depression and anxiety," says Faddis, who in 2007 performed a small but suggestive analysis of 37 kids in his program. He found that 34 of them had been evaluated to have parent-child relationship problems, such as serious breakdowns in communication and mutual respect. Other research indicates that using drugs can make kids feel more independent and grown-up. Teens who take alcohol or any kind of illegal drugs report feeling older than their real age, found a 2007 study from the University of Alberta in Edmonton. "One explanation: Kids are using drugs because they think of drug-taking as an adult behavior," says Kelly Arbeau, Ph.D., coauthor of the study. Torgersen, who just started his senior year this September at the Oakley School in Oakley, UT, an addiction-recovery high school, echoes Arbeau's analysis. "I was trying so hard to be independent. I thought I was mature," he says. "I wasn't."

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