Over-the-Counter Drug Abuse Among Teens: Read the Warning Signs
Category: News Tags: , ADHD medication abuse, parenting, Signs of Prescription Drug Abuse
Parents of adolescents are naturally concerned about the possibility of their kids getting involved with illegal drugs or alcohol. But few moms and dads realize that they may be keeping dangerous and potentially addictive substances right in their very own medicine cabinets or bathroom drawers.
And in this instance we are not talking about prescription drugs. Instead, we are referring to such supposedly benign substances as cough and cold remedies, diet pills, sleeping pills, and medicines taken for motion sickness. Many believe these types of over-the-counter chemical potions can be used with impunity, but, in reality, these substances are neither as harmless nor as mild as people think, especially if taken in larger-than-usual doses.
Parents may not know that kids are actually ingesting medications like these for recreational purposes, but that is exactly what is happening in millions of households across the country. Experts estimate that nearly 10 percent of all adolescents have abused OTC drugs at some point in their lives, and, among the 13-16 age group in particular, it appears that the use of these substances has been increasing dramatically.
But just as adults are often fooled into believing medicines sold over the counter are automatically safe, teenagers who consume these drugs for their mind-altering capacities are guilty of the same mistaken assumption. It is true that these substances are unlikely to cause harm if used as prescribed, but when they are taken at triple or quadruple the normal dosage for their intoxicating effects, they can be just as dangerous as any street drug or prescription medication.
The Challenge of Detection
Needless to say, parents won’t be able to do much to protect their children from the risks associated with OTC drug abuse if they aren’t even aware that the problem exists. A campaign of simple consciousness-raising may not be enough to stem the rising tide of OTC abuse and addiction, however, because the signs that indicate substance abuse may be difficult to spot in many instances.
The trouble is not that warning signs do not exist and will not become evident—they do and they will. But because teenage comportment is so unpredictable and mercurial even in the best of times, it is not always clear why adolescents are displaying certain behavioral patterns or why their moods and interests have suddenly changed so much. Some of it is inherent to that particular stage of life, at least for some kids, but in other situations changes in previously established habits and the appearance of new and unpleasant personality traits may be related to a growing substance abuse problem.
According to drug and alcohol abuse experts, the warning signs that might indicate an adolescent has been abusing OTC substances include:
- OTC medications suddenly going missing from the medicine cabinet
- Insomnia or other disruptions in normal sleeping patterns
- Unusual outbursts of temper or other examples of roller coaster-like mood swings
- Abandonment of previous hobbies and activities
- An abrupt downturn in academic performance
- Secretive or reclusive behavior; obsessive concern with privacy
- Medicine-like odors coming from the child or the child’s room
- Overt signs of being drugged—sluggishness, hyperactivity, rambling speech, extreme nausea, etc.
The presence of one or two of these symptoms can probably be chalked up to the typical teenage angst (with the obvious exception of the first one, which can be almost impossible to detect since most people don’t keep close track of the amount of OTC medication they have on hand). But if a teen is exhibiting four, five, or more of these symptoms, this is a clear sign of trouble and it is a situation that no parent should ignore. The problem may or may not be related to OTC abuse, but when warning signs like these are present, parents need to be proactive and assertive and engage their kids in frank and honest conversation.
Ignorance Is Not Bliss
Over-the-counter drug abuse is a disturbing trend among youth. To a significant extent, it is thriving on adult ignorance and naivety, as parents are frequently unable to detect what is happening even though indications are undoubtedly present.
But raised awareness of the risk combined with a watchful eye can reverse this situation in a hurry. If alcohol, prescription drugs, illegal drugs, or over-the-counter substances are being abused by adolescents, there will be signs, and parents who are paying attention and making a concerted effort to be involved in their kids’ lives should be able to separate the signal from the noise and differentiate between normal fluctuations in teen behavior and changes that indicate something disturbing is going on. From this point on, individual parents will have to decide for themselves how exactly to proceed—but proceed they must, and quickly, before the situation gets completely out of hand.
And if the problem does turn out to be the abuse of OTC drugs, the chances of it getting out of hand are excellent. Illness, addiction, overdose, coma, and even death—all are possible if action is not taken and the use of these substances by young people is allowed to continue unabated.