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How to Keep Your Teen Safe from Prescription Painkillers

The Biggest Threats are in the Medicine Cabinet

Today, one of the biggest risks facing your teen could be sitting right in your medicine cabinet. Prescription painkillers are one of the most common types of drugs for teenagers to abuse, and part of the reason for this is that they are easily accessible. To a teenager, prescription medications may seem less dangerous than other types of drugs because they are prescribed by a physician, and they may even see the adults in their life take them to manage health conditions. Yet, the misuse of painkillers has serious consequences that can range from the development of an addiction to death by overdose.

You can use these tips to keep your teen safe from prescription painkillers so that they can avoid falling prey to addiction during these vulnerable years.

TIP # 1: Discuss Alternative Options for Pain Relief.

Active teens may experience injuries that require prescription painkillers. Although you want your child to be comfortable, you must also be aware that certain painkillers are known to lead to addiction even when they are taken properly.

Ask your child’s physician about the potential for physical dependency with each prescription they receive for painkillers. Depending upon the severity of the pain, you may also find it more effective to use non-addictive types of pain relief such as over-the-counter medications, heat or ice to alleviate discomfort.

TIP #2: Minimize Their Access to Pills.

The prevalence of prescription painkillers makes it easy for teens to gain access, but you can take a few simple steps to limit your child’s ability to procure pills. While you might want to encourage independence with other medications, such as those used for asthma, you should monitor your teen’s use of painkillers if they do receive a prescription.

Adults should always keep their prescription medications in a secure location where young children and teenagers cannot gain access. Ideally, a locked cabinet in your room is the best place to store potentially addictive prescription painkillers. You should also be aware of how medications are stored in other locations that your teenager visits. For example, a teenager may be tempted to grab a few pills from their grandparent’s medicine cabinet if they are struggling with an addiction.

TIP # 3: Talk about the Risks of Prescription Medication Misuse.

While parents often want to protect their children by avoiding discussions about drugs, the truth is that teenagers are exposed to drug abuse at an early age. If you are not talking to your teenager about drug abuse, then you should be aware that the only information that they receive is coming from their peers and the media.

Make sure to set aside time to talk to your teenager about the risks associated with taking prescription painkillers. For example, physicians carefully weigh factors such as a patient’s body weight, age and tolerance to medications when they write a prescription. Taking someone else’s prescription places your teen at greater risk for a serious overdose.

Sadly, the National Institute of Drug Abuse for teens reports that over half of all overdose deaths that occur in the United States are related to the misuse of prescription medications. Prepare for your discussion by gathering a few statistics about the dangers of prescription painkillers to share with your child so that they can see that your concerns are based upon real life research.

TIP #4: Establish an Open Environment for Communication.

You also want to make sure that your teen knows that they can come to you with a problem. Let them know to tell you if a friend, despite their resistance, gives them pills. Your teen should also be comfortable telling you if they do experiment with a painkiller and have adverse reactions. While it is upsetting to hear that your teen tried prescription painkillers, it is better to find out early enough to get them the appropriate treatment before their experimentation turns into a full blown addiction.

TIP #5: Help Them Stay Involved in Healthy Activities.

Teenagers who are happily engaged in wholesome activities are less likely to experiment with drugs. Prevent experimentation that comes with boredom by helping your child develop their interests. Whether your child enjoys playing a musical instrument, dancing or kicking a soccer ball, these types of activities promote a sense of self-esteem while giving your teen an outlet for their emotions. Teens who are involved in healthy activities are also more likely to have a network of friends who also prefer to avoid using drugs.

TIP # 6: Watch for Warning Signs of Substance Abuse

Unfortunately, teens sometimes abuse prescription painkillers despite their parent’s best efforts. Begin by watching for warning signs in their behavior and health such as the following:

  • Increased fatigue or difficulty sleeping
  • A sudden change in friends
  • Mood swings or emotional outbursts
  • Loss of appetite or nausea
  • Physical complaints such as stomach pain with no obvious cause
  • Constricted, or “pin point,” pupils

As addiction takes hold, your teen may also experience some of the same negative effects that are caused by other types of drug and alcohol abuse. For instance, they may experience a drop in their grades if they are no longer focused on school. Teens who abuse medication may also begin to get involved in criminal activity such as stealing items to obtain pills. You may also find evidence of prescription drug abuse in your teen’s room such as discarded pill bottles, unlabeled pills or canisters that are designed for hiding drugs.

FINALLY, Know When to Take Action!

You must be willing to seek help for your teen at the first sign of drug abuse. Typically, painkiller addictions get worse over time, and your teen’s developing body is at a high risk for long-term side effects that occur from abusing prescription medications. When you suspect that your teen is abusing prescription drugs, arrange for a professional assessment to find out how your teen could benefit from treatment.

While you may think that your teen would never experiment with drugs, teens are more likely to try prescription drugs before other types such as marijuana or alcohol simply because of their easy accessibility. Proactive parenting is key to protecting your child from the dangers of drug abuse. Through good communication and keeping a watchful eye, you can help your child make it through their teen years with an understanding of the importance of sobriety.

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About Dr. Jeff Nalin, Psy.D.

Dr. Nalin is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist (PSY17766), a Certified Chemical Dependency Intervention Specialist and a Certified Youth Residential Treatment Administrator. Dr. Nalin is the Founder and Clinical Director of Paradigm Malibu and Paradigm San Francisco Adolescent Treatment Centers. He has been responsible for the direct care of young people at multiple institutions of learning including; The Los Angeles Unified School District, the University of California at San Diego, Santa Monica College, and Pacific University. He was instrumental in the development of the treatment component of Los Angeles County’s first Juvenile Drug Court, which now serves as a national model.