Teens Taking Opioids to Relax, Get High

12% of High School Seniors Report Taking Opioids Without a Doctor's Orders, Study Shows

Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD on August 06, 2009
From the WebMD Archives

Aug. 6, 2009 -- American teens are using prescription opioids -- such as Vicodin, OxyContin, Percocet, and codeine -- without a doctor's orders at an alarmingly high rate. And they are more likely to use the drugs to relieve stress or get high rather than for pain relief.

Those findings come from a new study, published in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, that is based on questionnaires filled out by high school students in the spring of their senior year. A total of 12,441 students from more than 100 private and public high schools participated between 2002 and 2006.

More than one in 10 high school seniors (12.3%) reported ever having taken prescription opioids for a nonmedical reason. That included 8% who reported having done so within the past year.

Why Teens Use Opioids

Here are the top reasons the students gave for taking opioids:

  • 56.4% to relax or relieve tension
  • 53.5% to feel good or get high
  • 52.4% to experiment
  • 44.8% to relieve physical pain
  • 29.5% to have a good time with friends.

The students who took the drugs for reasons other than pain relief were more likely to also use other drugs and to drink alcohol heavily.

“The prevalence of nonmedical use of prescription opioids among adolescents and young adults is now at its highest level in 15 years and represents a public health concern,” the authors write in the study.

They call for screenings into the reasons teens are taking such drugs without a doctor's orders, because cases of teens taking opioids for pain relief may need to be handled differently than cases of teens taking them for fun and relaxation.

Show Sources


McCabe, S.E. Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, August 2009; vol 163: pp 739-744.

News release, American Medical Association.

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