As parents, aunts, uncles, grandparents, teachers, and other concerned adults, we spend a lot of time helping teens circumvent the challenges that could ground them for life. Perhaps one of the biggest challenges teens face is substance abuse. While we may talk to them about the hazards of alcohol use, drunk driving, and of abusing illegal drugs like marijuana, heroin, and cocaine, we often forget about those drugs that are found right in our own medicine cabinets – prescription and over-the-counter medicines.
Nationally, prescription (Rx) drugs are the second most abused category of drugs after marijuana, with one in five young adults reporting that they have abused a prescription drug. In addition, according to the 2011 Monitoring the Future Survey, 5 percent of teens have abused over-the-counter (OTC) cough medicines containing the active ingredient dextromethorphan (DXM) to get high over the past year. When abused in extreme excess—sometimes as much as 25 to 50 times the recommended dose—DXM can produce dangerous side effects, especially when combined with alcohol, illicit drugs, or certain prescription drugs.
So why is this happening? Surveys show that today’s teens find Rx medication abuse as an acceptable and safer alternative to illicit drug use. The thinking goes, “these drugs are prescribed by doctors and available at local drug stores so how bad can they be?” Easy access also plays a role. After all, Rx and OTC medicines are found right in our own medicine cabinets, at a friend or family member’s home, or at local drug stores.
That’s why it’s vital that caregivers be vigilant of the possible signs of abuse. If you see your child making frequent purchases of OTC cough medicines from the same or different stores, or from the Internet (for example, note the arrival of unexpected packages); or if you find empty bottles or packages of cough medicine in his/her bedroom, your internal alarm should go off. And if you notice that he/she is exhibiting odd behavior, excessive mood swings, has an increase or decrease in sleep, declining grades or a loss of interest in friends and activities then chances are something’s up and whether it’s due to prescription or over-the-counter medicine abuse, or something else, it’s worth talking to them about it.