Could Your Child be Abusing Prescription Drugs?

A growing number of teens are using drugs they weren't prescribed. Here's what to do if you suspect your child is among them.

Forget the shady dealer lurking in the school parking lot or local teen hangout. For many kids today, acquiring their drug of choice doesn’t even require leaving the house -- just a walk to the medicine cabinet. In the latest youth risk behavior survey by the Centers for Disease Control, almost 21 percent of high school students admitted to taking a prescription drug that had not been prescribed to them. And a recent government survey estimates that 2,500 kids between 12 and 17 abuse a prescription pain reliever for the first time every day -- a number that translates to nearly a million young users a year. How can you tell if your child might be among them? And what should you do if you suspect or you know your child is using? The Partnership at offers these tips:

If You Think Your Child is Using

• Come right out and ask. If your teen is honest with you, you’ll get a clearer picture of what’s going on and what you need to do to help him. And, research says that when parents talk openly about drugs and drinking, children have better self-control and develop more negative perceptions of these risky behaviors.

• Look for signs and symptoms. Knowing what to look for is a huge help in determining whether your child is drinking or using drugs. If you’re familiar with the signs of drug use, that knowledge can aid you in gathering evidence and starting the conversation. Look for changes in your teen’s behavior, personal appearance, personal habits, schoolwork, and health -- and bring up your observations with your child.

•Learn the risk factors. Certain circumstances make some kids more likely to use drugs and alcohol than others. Some common factors that can lead to a higher risk of teen drug use and drinking are: natural rebelliousness, having friends who drink or use drugs, a history of addiction in the family, and more. Knowing the common factors that often accompany drug and alcohol use by teens can help you understand when to be more aware, when to start a conversation with your kids, or when to take action to change a potentially harmful situation.

• Know why teens use. Today's teens are in a very different environment with pressures, technology and priorities vastly changed from when you were a teenager. Teens use drugs and alcohol to socialize and fit in with peers; ease emotional pain; and make transitions easier to bear. Learn what may be externally enticing your child to experiment and that will help you figure out what you can do about it.

If You Know Your Child Is Using

• Get focused. Before you begin the conversation with your teen, you want to prepare yourself (and your child’s other parent) both physically and mentally. Talk with your spouse/partner to get on the same page; gather any evidence you have; set an expected outcome for your upcoming talk; recognize the significance of addiction in the family; and prepare for your teen to be angry, deny drug use, or call you a hypocrite.

• Start talking. Starting a conversation with your child about his or her drug use is the most important step you can take in helping your child. While we know it's not an easy thing to do, preparing yourself for the conversation will help you stay calm and make the most of the discussion. Remember to keep in mind throughout that you’re having a conversation -- not a confrontation. This means that you need to listen to your child without judgment, and always come from a place of love and support. Constantly remind your teen that you’re talking to her about her drug use because you’re concerned, not angry.

• Set limits. After your conversation, lay down rules. Rules provide a concrete way to help your kids understand what you expect and learn self-control. You should also set firm consequences for when your rules are broken -- this can actually help your teenager, making it clear what he is to do and not to do. Though it may not seem like it, rules are a way of showing you care.

• Monitor. Make sure your teen is following your rules and staying drug-free by maintaining close communication. When your child leaves the house, ask where he’s going, who he’s going with, and what he plans on doing. If your monitoring leads you to suspect your teen is still using drugs, keep track of odd behavior and collect evidence if you feel you have the right to “snoop.” Some good places to look for your kid’s hidden drugs are: dresser drawers, desk drawers, CD/DVD cases, in a plant (buried in the dirt), and inside empty candy bags.

• Get outside help and support. Telling others about your teenager's drug use can be scary. You may feel guilty or ashamed, fear you're going to embarrass your child or believe that you can "deal with it" on your own. But you can't handle this problem by yourself -- and you shouldn't have to. It's important to get outside help. Don't be put off by the term "get help." Outside help includes school counselors, your family doctor, and even your child's sports team coach. All of them can be great resources and sources of support for you and your teen during this time.

For additional guidance and expert advice call: Parents Toll-Free Helpline at 1-855-DRUGFREE or visit and

“Join us for a #endmedicineabuse Twitter chat on Monday September 24, 2012 at 8:00pm EST. Our hosts, @StevePasierb and @MedicineAbuse, will answer your questions and give you expert advice on how to protect your children from medicine abuse.”

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