Grandparents’ Role in Preventing Teen Prescription Drug Abuse

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An involved grandparent can be a powerful weapon against teen prescription drug abuse, but only if they are wise to the dangers that may be present in their own homes. According to an April 2012 poll by The University of Michigan Mott Children’s Hospital, nearly one in four grandparents store prescription drugs in places that are easily accessed by children. In the past 10 years, the result has been more emergency room visits for accidental poisonings and a raging prescription drug addiction epidemic.

If your grandkids spend time at your home, take the following steps to avoid becoming an accidental drug dealer:

Get Educated – Before talking to your grandchildren about drugs, make sure you’re up on the latest trends. Gone are the days when the only drugs you really needed to worry about were marijuana and alcohol. While use of “street” drugs is declining among teens, children are experimenting with prescription and over-the-counter drugs at alarming rates. These medications are equally dangerous and addictive. Even household products, such as nail polish remover, spray paint, glue, air fresheners and other inhalants, can be addictive and even lethal.

According to the 2010 Monitoring the Future survey, prescription and over-the-counter drugs are among the most commonly abused drugs by 12th graders. Even good kids use drugs. Roughly one in five teens has abused a prescription pain medication, such as Oxycontin, and one in 10 has abused a prescription stimulant, such as Adderall, reports The Partnership for a Drug-Free America.

Store Medications Properly – Most teens report getting prescription drugs from medicine cabinets at home (or their grandparents’ or friends’ homes). All medications, including over-the-counter drugs, should be stored up high and out of the reach of children. Any medication that has potential for abuse (when in doubt, assume it does) should be locked in the medicine cabinet or a lockbox. Any unwanted medications should be disposed of properly, not by throwing them in the garbage.

Talk to Your Grandkids – Recent studies show that teens begin experimenting with drugs around age 14, on average. Experts recommend starting conversations about drugs by the end of elementary school. And it’s not just the job of parents. Since grandparents are one level removed from parents, teens may be more willing to listen to their wisdom and guidance. Even if the teen is resistant, it can help to hear the same expectations and concerns echoed from multiple adults in their lives.

Sometimes the easiest way to start a conversation is when the topic arises at school, in a television show or on the news. Ask your grandkids what they think or if they know anyone who is using drugs, and share your perspective without lecturing. Offer the facts about drug use and convey a strong message that drug use is unacceptable in your family. These conversations should become a regular part of your lives, not a one-time task to check off the to-do list.

Stay Involved – You’re in the best position to protect your grandchildren if you are actively involved in their lives. Ask them about their interests, their schoolwork and their friends. Keep an eye out for signs that they’re struggling. While you don’t want to be the meddling or overbearing grandparent, being a regular part of their life will ensure a trusting relationship and open lines of communication.

Get Help – If you suspect that your grandchild may be using drugs or alcohol and talking isn’t getting you anywhere, reach out for help. Therapists who specialize in adolescent issues, teen addiction treatment programs, and Alateen and other 12-Step groups are all excellent resources. A drug problem that begins in adolescence is far more likely to turn into a difficult-to-treat addiction later in life.

No matter how close you are with your grandkids, you’re never “just a grandparent.” Your opinions matter and could be just what your grandchild needs to hear at just the right time.

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