Parents are readily aware of the dangers of recreational street drugs such as marijuana or cocaine, but the risks associated with prescription drugs are often less known. Because prescriptions are sometimes even more accessible than illegal drugs, their abuse can more easily slip under the radar. Some also think that because they’re prescribed to help people, they can’t possibly do any harm, even if they’re used without a prescription. Teens are at high-risk for abusing drugs of all kinds, including those that come from a pharmacy.
Prescription drugs pose many dangers to teens if used improperly and without a doctor’s supervision, even if they hold the prescription themselves. Some prescription drugs are highly addictive, and though they may have helped your teen’s depression, ADHD, or anxiety initially, it’s important to monitor how reliant your teen becomes on them. Here are some warning signs of prescription misuse to look out for in your teens and tweens:
If your teen’s personality has changed lately (even just slightly), keep a close eye on whether they’re sneaking out late at night, being secretive, avoiding activities they used to love, going to the doctor more often, or claiming to frequently lose their prescriptions. The latter could indicate that they’re taking more than their prescribed dose or even that they’re selling it to friends. “Performance-enhancing” drugs such as psychostimulants like Ritalin and Adderall can be incredibly dangerous if used improperly or without a prescription, and reselling these medications to “improve studying” is an alarming trend we’re seeing within high school and college communities.
Don’t just shrug off your teen’s sliding sleep and hygiene practices. Notice if they’re excessively thirsty or hungry or are rapidly losing or gaining weight. All of these physical symptoms can indicate that something’s not right. Be aware of what drug withdrawal looks like – some common symptoms include excessive sweating and high body temperature, insomnia, clamminess, slow breathing, sleepiness, constipation, and dilated pupils.
Mental and emotional changes
Notice if your teen’s mood seems to swing more rapidly or severely than normal, if they just don’t seem like “themselves,” and whether they go through sudden bursts of energy or euphoria, anxiety, or restlessness. Notice if they seem mentally disorganized, disoriented, or confused – or are having troubles with their memory. These are all signs that you should start to pay a little closer attention to your teen’s health.
Other warning signs
If you start to see pill bottles in your recycling that your teen said they had previously lost, find that your own prescriptions are missing, or notice new prescription bottles around the house that you don’t recognize – it’s important that you bring this up with your teen kindly and without threats or ultimatums. Don’t make assumptions or accuse them. If you are genuinely concerned, start with letting them know that you love them no matter what and that you just want them to be safe.
Teens are half as likely to abuse prescription drugs when parents regularly discuss their risks, so make this a habit in your family home. Create an open, honest, and loving environment where your teens can feel comfortable coming to you about any possible problem they’re dealing with. Lastly, prescription drugs have different uses for different people. They can be tremendously helpful for medical conditions – and it’s important that teens understand that prescriptions can be safe for one person but not for another. If you are concerned about your teen, start keeping a journal to keep track of their negative symptoms and troubling behaviours. This will help you in your conversation with your child’s mental health professional if you decide to seek help.