Curiosity killed the cat, as the saying goes. A key component of the adolescent experience involves exploring consciousness and experimenting with mood-alteration. While not all teens turn to substances to do this, teenage experimentation is a common and developmentally normal part of this life stage. In addition, teens share information at a rate that would impress most physicists! Via texts, instant messages, social media and the like, teens can ask for and receive information – accurate or not – faster than a speeding bullet. Rumors and urban legends about ways to cure your acne or expand your consciousness are common and shared virally. Before your teen hears about the next “get high legally” fad that could be fatal, take a look around your home and especially in your medicine cabinet and complete a thorough assessment.
By the time we reach the age where we have become parents of teenagers, we have seen a few decades of adulthood. Most people have been prescribed a medication or two over those decades, and some people are much more fastidious than others about proper disposal of old medications. Step one is to take a look at what is hiding in the back of the top shelf, where you shoved it five years ago.
- Sleep Aids: prescription or not makes a huge difference. Most over the counter sleep aids contain diphenhydramine hydrochloride (known to most of us as Benadryl) as an active ingredient. This substance is relatively safe at low doses, but extremely dangerous when mixed with alcohol or taken in higher than recommended doses.
- Pain relief: an overdose of Tylenol is fatal. Tylenol is dangerous enough to unsuspecting teens that it might be worth it to not keep any in the house. Prescription pain medications such as percoset, darvon, or oxycontin are extremely dangerous as well due to their highly addictive nature, and their incredibly high street value.
- Psychiatric medications: if you have made it to the parenting-of-teenager years without receiving a prescription for anxiety medications, more power to you! Anti-depressants and anti-anxiety pills are among the psychiatric medications most commonly prescribed to adults. Psychostimulants, such as Ritalin or Dexedrine, are very commonly prescribed for children. All of these could cause problems if left accessible to inquiring minds.
- Over The Counter (OTC) medications: read the ingredients. Alcohol and the combination of alcohol and antihistamines are a big red flag: a curious teen with bad information could try a Nyquil cocktail or two. Diet pills, sleep aids, cold and/or allergy medicine containing alcohol, Benadryl, or pseudoephedrine are all potentially problematic.
- Antibiotics: while not necessarily something your teen might reach for in an effort to get high, leaving old antibiotics accessible can be a bad idea for other reasons. Sometimes teens hear that “penicillin cures a sore throat” or some equally ridiculous half-truth, and in an effort to just feel better when under the weather, they may “finish off” someone else’s old prescription. A deadly way to discover an antibiotic allergy, for sure. Also, some teens may consider selling unmarked capsules as something much more desirable, so having anything left lying around could be problematic.
What To Do?
Start having open conversations with your teens before they are teens. Make sure tough subjects (sex, drugs, and rock and roll) are discussable in your household and create a climate where questions can be asked and answered without any fear of judgment. You can make your rules known and insist they get respected without making a curious youngster feel “bad” for asking.
More specifically, once you’ve completed your inventory, properly dispose of any medications you no longer need or use. This includes any medications that are expired, and all antibiotics that you are not currently taking. Ask your local pharmacist about proper disposal, as landfills and water supplies (i.e. flushing them down the toilet) are not safe ways to throw away such substances.
But most homes do have some potentially dangerous medications stored away, and parenting a teen shouldn’t mean “baby proofing” your home. Consider this: you may not be protecting your own teen, but perhaps the friend of a friend who stops by one day and happens to use the bathroom. A locked medication box is important for any and all controlled substances. Keep anything with real street value, any controlled substances, and any psychoactive substances (these three categories have quite a bit of overlap) out of sight and under lock and key. Consider switching to a safer alternative than Tylenol for those simple headaches or post-exercise practice aches and pains. And keep track of your own medications, paying attention to how many pills you have and how many you should have on a regular basis. When in doubt about a medication and its potential for being lethal, just look it up on the Internet.