What Parents Should Know About Teen Prescription Drug Abuse
What are the facts?
Prescription drugs, when used as directed by a medical professional, can be safe and highly effective in treating pain and other health problems. Doses are determined by a patient’s age, weight, gender, other physical conditions and the patient’s medical history. For someone other than the patient to take these medications is very dangerous.
There are three types of prescription drugs that are commonly abused by young adults: depressants, used to treat sleep disorders and severe anxiety; stimulants, used to treat behavior disorders such as ADHD; and opioids, which are used to treat pain. Opioids can be particularly dangerous because they target the pain receptors in the brain. Abuse of these drugs can cause chemical changes in the brain which is particularly troubling among teens because their brains are still developing. The frontal cortex of the brain, where impulse control, judgment and long-range planning take place, does not fully develop until mid 20s. In the absence of a genuine medical condition and without the advice of a physician, the introduction of a non-prescribed drug into the nervous system at this point in the brain’s development is taking a huge risk.
Prescription drug abuse begins when an individual takes prescription medication for reasons other than prescribed by a doctor or dentist. It can begin by taking the drug beyond the recommended time period or by finding illegal sources for the drug. It can begin by taking someone else’s prescription or experimenting with drugs at a party – often called “pharming.” Drug abuse occurs, in part, because of the misconception that prescription drugs are less harmful than illegal drugs because they are prescribed by doctors. This is simply not true.
Excessive use over time reduces the effect of these drugs, until the individual needs to take the drug just to feel normal. This abuse can lead to addiction, a hard to cure disease of the brain in which the body craves the drug despite harmful consequences. It is unclear exactly what factors lead to addiction. Heredity, family life and social conditions are all contributing factors. Prescription pain medicines, when used without a doctor’s supervision, are also dangerous because those same drugs that target pain receptors can also attack the area of the brain that controls respiration, with the potential to cause death with only one use. Everyone’s physical and emotional make-up is different. It is unwise to take the risk of abusing prescription drugs, even once.
Surveys indicate that abuse of prescription pain medicine is the only form of illicit drug abuse that is increasing among teens. It is important to be aware, not only of the facts about this type of abuse but also what your children might know, or think they know, and what you can do about
The Basics: What else should parents know?
It is important to be aware of what types of prescription drugs are in your household. Know who has prescription medication, what the doses are and where they are kept. Find out all you can about the prescription medications in your household. Keep a list. If you have children on medication, carefully monitor their dosage. When the need for the medication has passed, learn the correct way to dispose of the medication and do so. Don’t think that you can keep some pills around “in case” someone needs them later. This is how trouble starts.
What Parents Should Know About Teen Prescription Drug Abuse - You are here!
Reprinted with the permission of PBS. © Copyright MacNeil / Lehrer Productions
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