Adolescents with Mental Health Disorders More Likely to Become Addicted to Prescription Painkillers

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When your child is already living with a condition like depression, anxiety disorder, ADHD or any number of other mental health issues, it is hard to hear that this places them in a category that is more at risk for other serious problems. On the other hand, it is easier to prevent and overcome challenges that are known than those which are unknown. Knowing what your child’s potential vulnerabilities are can inform your parenting, and even the medical care your child receives.

The Study

There are already studies which have shown that both depression and substance abuse have the greatest likelihood of occurring during a child’s teen years and on into early adulthood. A new study has examined the connection between mental health disorders and prescription drug abuse. The longitudinal study, conducted by the Seattle Children’s Research Hospital in conjunction with the University of Washington, followed more than 62,000 subjects between 2001-2008. The subjects participating in the study ranged in age from 13-24 years.

The Findings

The study is timely since prescription drug abuse is the fastest rising substance abuse problem in the nation. And among prescription drugs, painkillers (meaning drugs like Vicodin, Percocet and OxyContin) account for nearly 87 percent of all abuse among high school aged kids. Therefore, understanding how a child or young adult’s mental health status may or may not contribute to such abuse is keenly important. Here is what the study uncovered:

What Parents Can Do

The reasons why these children may be more often prescribed such medications could include the fact that their mental health issues could lead to more intense pain symptoms or they simply may come across as more stressed out by their pain to the prescribing physician. Whatever the cause, parents should not give up. There are steps which can be taken to reduce the risk:

The drastic rise in prescription drug abuse demands that parents and health care professionals also grow in understanding about what drives the abuse and who is most at risk. Parents of children with an existing mental health issue such as depression, ADHD, or some other condition, should be aware that this could mean that their child is also more vulnerable to prescription drug abuse. Parents should discuss the risk with their child’s physician and be alert whenever controlled painkillers are prescribed. Keeping the home environment free of unused medicines, partnering with the medical caregiver and monitoring the teen’s friends and activities are the most practical steps parents can take to ensure that their child does not fall into the wrong side of these statistical findings.

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