Teen overdoses are increasing despite teen substance use being near all-time lows. Learn about how to prevent and treat teen overdose.

What is an Overdose?

An overdose occurs when a teen uses an excessive amount of a substance, to the point that it overwhelms their body. Some overdoses are mild and may only result in temporary discomfort (such as a hangover after an alcohol overdose), but severe overdoses can lead to permanent brain damage and even death.

Teens can overdose on a single substance or multiple substances simultaneously. When mind-altering substances are combined, the effects of each substance can grow even more pronounced, making an overdose more likely. For example, if a teen abuses alcohol (a depressant) and also abuses Adderall (a stimulant) at the same time, they are subject to a wider variety of risks.

How Much Alcohol Does It Take to Overdose?

The answer to this question is based heavily on the user’s age, weight, biological sex, current medications and physiological makeup. These factors determine Blood Alcohol Content (BAC). Generally speaking, if a person’s BAC reaches near .18%, they are likely to experience an alcohol overdose. For a 100-pound teen girl, that BAC might mean that she had five drinks over a course of five hours.

How Many Pills Does It Take to Overdose?

Pill abuse is common among teens. Thus, there is not a formula for pill overdose the way that there is for alcohol overdose. Several factors are involved: the contents and size of each pill, the physical makeup of the user, as well as any other substances or medications the user may be taking at the time. That said, a teen could potentially experience overdose after taking just a single pill of a certain kind.

Teenage Drug Overdose Statistics

In 2015, researchers reported that overdoses are skyrocketing among American adolescents. Teens are particularly at risk for overdose because they tend to take bigger risks and don’t know their limits.

Did You Know…

  • Though teen boys are more likely than girls to die of an overdose, the gender gap is closing.
  • Each year, drug overdoses kill more than car accidents, guns and falls combined.
  • Research shows that 50% of teens believe that prescription drugs are significantly safer than street drugs. However, out of all substances of abuse, prescription drugs cause the most overdose deaths in teenagers.
  • Depressant, antidepressant and opioid abuse lead to more overdose deaths than cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine and amphetamine use combined.

Symptoms of a Drug Overdose

Overdose looks different from drug to drug, but there are a few common symptoms that are often present across the board.

Signs of a severe drug overdose can include:

  • Lack of coordination
  • Slurred speech
  • Semi-consciousness or unconsciousness
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Seizures
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Gurgling or snoring during sleep

If your child is showing signs of an overdose, immediately contact 911 emergency personnel, who will know what to do if someone overdoses on pills, alcohol or another substance.

Although teens abuse and overdose on many of the same substances as adults, young people tend to gravitate towards certain drugs.

“On a Monday in September of 2003, I had a life-changing knock on my door. My heart dropped as I heard the words that my son — my handsome, sensitive, funny, talented, smart son — died from an “accidental prescription drug overdose.” —Real Parent, The Medicine Abuse Project


Alcohol is the most widely abused substance among teens. Although any use of alcohol by underage drinkers is abuse, research indicates that teenagers binge drink more than legal drinkers. Adolescents ingest an average of five alcoholic beverages per drinking session.

Prescription Drugs

A recent Monitoring the Future National Results on Adolescent Drug Use showed that the most commonly abused prescription drugs are as follows: amphetamines (including study aid drugs like Adderall), painkillers (particularly opioids like Vicodin and OxyContin, which cause at least half of all drug overdose deaths), cough medicine, sedatives and finally, tranquilizers. This list is not exhaustive; teens abuse many more prescription drugs.

Illicit Drugs

The same Monitoring the Future study indicated the following as the most commonly abused illicit drugs by teens: marijuana, synthetic marijuana, hallucinogens and ecstasy. (Salvia abuse was also shown to be a regarding adolescents.) Again, there are many additional illicit drugs that are commonly abused by teenagers.

Does Your Child Need Addiction Treatment?

If your teen has experienced an overdose or if you have seen signs of addiction in your child, it is time to take action. The sooner you find help for your child, the easier it will be for them to resolve this issue.

It can be isolating to worry about your teen’s substance use, especially since society shames addiction. But we at TheRecoveryVillage.com want you to know that you’re not alone — are here for you during this tough time. Whether you just need someone to talk to, would like to hear about some treatment options, or are interested in pursuing rehab for your teenager, we are here to help guide you. We dedicate our time to helping teens recover from addiction, and helping to encourage their families along the way.

Take the first step towards bringing your child back to wellness — call us to talk to one of our compassionate addiction experts today.

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Editor – Renee Deveney
As a contributor for Advanced Recovery Systems, Renee Deveney is passionate about helping people struggling with substance use disorder. With a family history of addiction, Renee is committed to opening up a proactive dialogue about substance use and mental health. Read more
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Medically Reviewed By – Dr. Jessica Pyhtila, PharmD
Dr. Jessica Pyhtila is a Clinical Pharmacy Specialist based in Baltimore, Maryland with practice sites in inpatient palliative care and outpatient primary care at the Department of Veteran Affairs. Read more

“Drug Use First Aid.” MedlinePlus, National Institutes of Health, 14 Apr. 2016 https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/000016.htm

Harm Reduction Coalition. “What is an Overdose?” Harm Reduction Coalition http://harmreduction.org/issues/overdose[…]what-is-an-overdose/

“My Son Died From Accidental Prescription Drug Overdose.” The Medicine Abuse Project, Partnership for Drug-Free Kids http://medicineabuseproject.org/stories/my-son-died-from-accidental-prescription-drug-overdose.

“Opioid Addiction.” ASAM Home Page, American Society of Addiction Medicine, 2016 https://www.asam.org/docs/default-source[…]se-facts-figures.pdf

“Overdose Basics.” International Overdose Awareness Day http://www.overdoseday.com/resources/ove[…]ug-Free World 

“Prescription Drug Abuse Statistics – Overdoses & Deaths.” Foundation for a Drug-Free World http://www.drugfreeworld.org/drugfacts/p[…]onal-statistics.html

“Prescription Opioid Overdose Data.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 21 June 2016 http://www.cdc.gov/drugoverdose/data/overdose.html

Thompson, Dennia. “Drug Overdose Rates Soaring Among U.S. Youth.” US News & World Report, US News, 19 Nov. 2015 http://health.usnews.com/health-news/art[…]aring-among-us-youth

Thompson, Dennis. “Drug Overdose Rates Soaring Among U.S. Youth.” Consumer HealthDay, HealthDay https://consumer.healthday.com/general-h[…]-s-youth-705469.html

“What Drugs Are Most Frequently Used by Adolescents?” National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), National Institutes of Health, Jan. 2014 https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/principles-adolescent-substance-use-disorder-treatment-research-based-guide/frequently-asked-questions/what-drugs-are-most-frequently-used-by-adolescents

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.