According to the Centers for Disease Control, one in 10 teens develops addiction to prescription drugs; in most instances, painkillers are the culprit. Research demonstrates that teens are more likely to abuse pain medications, such as Oxycotin and Percocet, which contain the powerful opiate oxycodone, than illegal street narcotics, such as cocaine or LSD. Methadone, hydrocodone, codeine, morphine, meperidine and fentanyl are other opiates that have become popular as recreational drugs for teens. Prescriptions drugs are more easily accessible and have the aura of being sanctioned drugs because they are doctor-approved.
While signs that teens might be taking these powerful prescription medication are obvious to experts, many parents are oblivious because they don't know the telltale signs.
Here are the top five signs that may indicate your child is abusing prescription painkillers:
1. Changes in Physical Appearance
Teens who are using prescription drugs often manifest physical changes related to the induced stress, side effects or changes in appetite that accompany excess medication.
The top physical change, experts say, is constant bloodshot eyes. This condition may accompany a sudden dependence on eye drops. Poor grooming is the next most common physical trait, with many teens refusing to shower, shave, change clothes, comb hair or brush their teeth. They instead adopt an overall slovenly appearance. Some teens stop eating altogether and suddenly drop weight in a short amount of time; other teens gain weight and eat more manically. Lastly, some high doses of painkillers might result in noticeable body shaking, particularly of the hands.
2. Behavioral Changes
After physical transformation, behavior modification offers the next best clues into secret teen prescription drug abuse. According to research by the New York Department of Health, many teens experience mood shifts and energy shifts as result of becoming addicted to painkillers. One moment the teen might be sluggish and inattentive; the next moment, he might have spastic amounts of energy. Many teens begin regular vomiting, coupled with excessive use of mouthwash to cover up the smell. Speech patterns might also become slurred.
School behavior might also change. The teen might become more rebellious or daring. She might suddenly stop caring about grades and experience a lack of achievement. A teen addicted to prescription painkillers might also quit all social or extracurricular activities and clubs.
3. Using Drug language
Many teens discuss their drug use in front of their parents, thinking the parents won't pick up on the slang. Parents must learn the code language. Vicodin is also called "vics" or "vice." Valium is known by teens as "benzos." Percocet is commonly called "percs" or "perks," which might sound innocent to the ears of an adult. Oxycotin might be harmlessly dubbed "OC."
4. Regular Occurrences of Missing pills or money
Many teens don't have to go far to fulfill their prescription drug cravings. Many just raid the family medicine cabinet. Parents should make a habit of keeping track of the number of all medications in the house and the exact number of pills. Even if a teen is prescribed painkillers for an ailment, parents must ration the drugs and oversee the dosage schedule.
If teens have no prescription drugs in the house, they have been known to steal money and valuables to trade at school or in the community for prescription drugs.
5. Relationship Changes
Teens on drugs often dump old friends and develop a network of new friends abruptly; many of them abuse drugs together as a bonding experience. Relatives may suddenly become unwanted by the drug-using teen; the teen might begin to shun family events and family time. In other cases, teens addicted to painkillers might avoid any and all relationship contact, preferring to become loners.
Parents do not have to feel helpless in the fight to keep their teens away from prescription drug abuse. Seek out educational DVDs and books to share with your teen about the dangers of using prescription medication excessively. Don't be afraid to set rules and issue consequences if you notice suspicious behavior listed above.
Jennie is an anti-drug advocate living in Florida. She recommends the Gulf Coast Drug Rehab Center for those battling drug addictions.