How to Talk with your Teen about Medicine Abuse

On KidsPrivacy, I have the luxury of focusing exclusively on digital parenting. At home, it is a different story. I have spent many late nights researching tools to help teens deal with stress, how to parallel park, taking the SAT vs ACT, the list goes on and on. Thankfully, I can always find fantastic resources to help me deal with any question that arises. Recently, I found out about Teens abusing over-the-counter and prescription medications is a growing problem. Sue Scheff wrote an excellent article on medicine abuse and digital parenting. Below I have a post from Peggy McKibbin, from The Five Moms Blog, on how to discuss medicine abuse with your teen.

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How to Talk with your Teen about Medicine Abuse

by Peggy McKibbin

Various pressures at school, in the media and from friends may impact teens to experiment with drugs at some point in their adolescence. Many parents’ minds may turn to marijuana, cocaine or other illegal substances; however, the truth is that teens can abuse legal drugs, too, often turning to their home medicine cabinet to get high. Teens abuse over-the-counter (OTC) cough medicine because it is easy to obtain and can often be found in the home. Additionally, many see its abuse as less risky than other substances. Unfortunately, that is not the case: side effects of taking excessive amounts of cough medicine can result in impaired vision, stomach pain, nausea and vomiting and disorientation.

While broaching sensitive issues like drug use can be intimidating for both parents and teens, it is an important conversation to have. In fact, teens who learn about the risks of drugs from their parents are 50 percent less likely to use drugs.

Not sure how to address this topic with your teen? You’re not alone! Here are some tips to help:

  1. Educate yourself – Before speaking with your teen about the dangers of medicine abuse, learn about the risks for yourself. Once you are familiar and comfortable with the facts, you’ll be able to discuss your concerns with more ease.
  2. Setting up the conversation – There is no “perfect” time to speak to your teen about medicine abuse, but there are certain things you can do to make the conversation more comfortable and effective. When talking to your teen, do so in a familiar environment like at the kitchen table, in the car when driving to activities, in the family room or on the patio. This allows your teen to focus on the what you’re saying, as a familiar environment will be less distracting. Also, remember to set a good tone for the discussion. It’s important to be calm and serious, not accusatory and frustrated. And keep in mind that if your teen does start talking, don’t interrupt; let he or she speak.
  3. Asking questions – This can be tricky. When speaking about such a sensitive issue, asking the right questions is key. Be sure to ask questions that require more than a simple “yes” or “no” response. Open-ended questions allow teens to elaborate and expand their answers. Take a look at this conversation starter guide for ideas on how to get the discussion rolling.
  4. Following up – Once you have had the initial discussion about OTC cough medicine abuse, future conversations should be easier and easier to have. Continue to check in with your teen and talk to them about what is going on in his or her life. As your child grows older, ask about the pressures he or she has faced (or seen) with friends and peers. Pressure to engage in dangerous behaviors probably won’t go away as your teen grows up, so continue the conversation.

Feel free to check out our tools for parents if you want to learn more about OTC cough medicine abuse and how to address this issue with your child.

Peggy is a mother of two and a high school nurse with a passion for promoting good health among teens. As one of The Five Moms for the Stop Medicine Abuse campaign and through her involvement with the National Association of School Nurses (NASN), Peggy works to educate her students and her community on the dangers of medicine abuse. Join the conversation by following Stop Medicine Abuse on Facebook and Twitter.