Teens Are Getting High on Medicine Cabinet Drugs

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Studies, surveys and broadcast news are all telling the same concerning story: Kids are abusing whatever drugs they can get their hands on. Despite many years of PSAs and anti-drug campaigns aimed at teens, they may have changed the substance of choice, but not the behavior. Kids today are grabbing for whatever happens to be on the shelves at home or in the neighborhood drug store.

Most Commonly Abuse Drugs Among Teens

A 2009 study conducted by the National Institute on Drug Abuse surveyed 50,000 high school students from over 400 schools across the nation to determine drug abuse behaviors. The study examined students in grades 8, 10 and 12, and discovered that use of illegal drugs was down in every grade. What was up was use of marijuana, prescription pills and over-the-counter drugs.

In 2009, the most abused drug among students in high school was marijuana with 12 percent of those in 8th grade, 25 percent of those in 10th grade and 31 percent of 12th graders using the substance. While overall drug use and teen drinking figures were down, the study noted a disturbing upward trend in prescription medication abuses.

Behind marijuana, in terms of popularity, were reported abuses of prescription drugs – painkillers like Vicodin and OxyContin, mood enhancers such as Xanax, and stimulants such as Ritalin. One of every 10 seniors in high school participating in the survey reported abusing Vicodin. Almost as bad, one out of 14 seniors in high school said that they had recently abused common cold medicines. 2009 was the year that the study began to track abuses of over-the-counter medications.

Signs of Prescription Drug Abuse

Adults who take prescription drugs realize that there are occasional side effects to be dealt with such as constipation, dry mouth and trouble articulating when talking. If a parent observes these signs, it could be cause for alarm. Abuse of prescription drugs can have far more serious consequences, including coma, seizures, heart attack and even death.

Concerned parents who wonder if there are any warning signs that their child is abusing prescription medications may benefit from the following list of indicators:

  • Sudden behavior changes
  • Sudden appetite changes
  • Remaining at home rather than attending school and activities
  • Poor personal hygiene
  • Red eyes and/or runny nose
  • Bruises on arms or legs associated with injection sites
  • Unexplained skin infections or itching
  • Sweating
  • Angry behavior

What Parents Can Do to Prevent Teen Drug Abuse

Whether or not a parent thinks their child may be abusing prescription and over-the-counter drugs, there are precautionary measures they can take. To start with, clean out the medicine cabinet on a regular basis and avoid saving unused portions of prescription medications for “just in case” scenarios. Parents who don’t want to do that can put a lock on the medicine chest or keep count of the pills.

In some cases, it might be best for the parent to take the medications to work and lock them up at the office. Just keep in mind that denying the child access to medications at home is not the same thing as drying up the supply chain. Friends at school can still provide them with pills.

If the child is abusing over-the-counter medications, there won’t be much that can be done until both parents and child acknowledge the problem. Once it is in the open, treatment can be sought. What a parent must not do is minimize the danger of over-the-counter drug abuse. Quite possibly, the child is combining that habit with other dangerous behaviors such as drinking.

Kids and grown-ups alike often have the mistaken belief that if medications are prescribed by a physician they are inherently less dangerous than drugs obtained through less respectable sources. Not so. The only difference is that prescription drugs will contain more reliable amounts of the active ingredients. Drugs are dangerous whether they come from the street, the doctor or the family medicine cabinet.

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