April 18, 2016 —

Every month, we keep you informed on the latest studies and research in our “Not My Teen” blog series. Today, we’re looking at the results of a study involving teens misusing prescription stimulants.  

Medicine abuse among teenagers is a concern that all parents should keep on their radar. Whether it’s the misuse of prescription or over-the-counter (OTC) medication, it can have negative implications on the health and well-being of teens. 

In a recent University of Florida Health study, findings showed that 88% of adolescents who misuse drugs intended for patients with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) say they got their medications from another person within a 30-day period. ADHD medications, such as Adderall, Concerta and Ritalin, are prescribed to help people stay focused, but when taken incorrectly or without a prescription, they can have severe consequences on the body. Harmful effects include an increase in blood pressure, heart rate, and body temperature as well as a decrease in sleep and appetite. Cardiovascular problems can also occur when these medicines are taken in high doses. 

The findings from this study were based off data collected from a survey conducted from 2008 to 2011. It looked at more than 11,000 adolescents, ages 10 to 18, living in and around ten U.S cities. Interviewers reached out to participants at entertainment venues such as malls, movie theaters, arcades, and skate parks. 

Here are some highlights from the study:

  • 7% of all respondents reported they had used a prescription stimulant during the past 30 days. 
  • Among those 750 adolescents, 54% reported some type of non-medical use, such as taking more pills than prescribed by their doctor, using someone else’s medication, or smoking, snorting, or sniffing the medication instead of taking by mouth.
  • Using someone else’s medication was the most frequently reported form of misuse at 88%, followed by taking more medication than prescribed at 39%.

In the study, two different types of non-medical users were identified, the first being teens who were only using medication non-medically, and the other being teens who reported using their own medication as prescribed as well as some form of non-medical use. 

The group of teens who were only using stimulants non-medically also reported more conduct issues at home and school, and said to have used other substance such as tobacco, alcohol, and illicit drugs. They also were more likely to be surrounded by friends who have tried other drugs, instigating “a circle of taking” among the group. 

“Understanding differences in behavior and friend networks between the two types of non-medical users can help experts develop targeted educational programs to prevent prescription stimulant misuse," said lead study author Yanning Wang, M.S. However, it is also important for parents to play an active role in preventing teen medicine abuse and misuse – regardless of whether it’s the abuse of prescription drugs or OTC medicines. 

Here are several things you can do as a parent to play a role in the prevention of medicine abuse:

  • Monitor your medicine cabinets. Notice if medicine goes missing without an explanation.
  • Observe your teen’s behaviors. Take note of warning signs of medicine abuse such as loss of interest in favorite hobbies, declining grades, or changes in friends. 
  • Stay informed on the slang terminology teens use when discussing the abuse of certain types of medication. 
  • Share the dangers and warning signs of medicine abuse with people in your community. Make sure you know who your kids are hanging out with and if their parents are aware of the dangers of medicine abuse. Many teens are abusing medicines right in their own homes or their friends’ homes.
  • And, perhaps most importantly, talk with your teen about the risks of abusing substances. It can be a tricky conversation to have, but teens who learn about the risks of drugs from their parents are 50% less likely to use drugs.

It’s also important to keep in mind that teenagers are often influenced by their peers, and medicine abuse – whether it’s the abuse of prescription or OTC medications – can be the result of variety of things such as stress, peer pressure, or bullying. Again, talk openly with your teen about these issues. Foster a relationship where the open communication goes both ways, so that your teen feels more comfortable opening up to you when faced with pressures and temptations.

You can learn more about the survey’s findings here. Please also feel free to comment and share your experiences below. We’d love to hear from you!