January 12, 2015 —

One of the most insidious ways that teens find validation for their experimenting and abusing medicines is through modeling they receive at home. I say “insidious” because parents don’t intentionally model medicine abuse, but I have uncovered many ways in which we (adults) actually do support the abuse of medicines even though that isn’t our intention.

Our unintentional modeling is the result of many factors that influence us as parents. Some of the strongest of these are:

  • A cultural mindset that favors ‘quick fixes’ for physical and emotional discomfort.
  • A general casualness about the use and safety of medicines in our homes.
  • The lack of knowledge that legal drugs – both prescribed and over-the-counter medicines (OTCs) – can be abused. Instead, we often believe that drug abuse only occurs from illegal drugs.

As a result, our behaviors can result in the articulation of messages that make medicine abuse seem ‘acceptable’ to children and teens. A couple examples of such behaviors are:

  • The over-use (and sometimes unnecessary use) of antibiotics.
  • Not keeping a close eye on the medicines we keep in our homes.

With all this in mind, what can a parent do to prevent their child or teen from seeing medicine abuse as an acceptable behavior? I suggest we start with a process I call “Stripping the Beds.”

  • First, take an inventory of all the ways that you may unintentionally promote medicine abuse and misuse in your home. Write your thoughts down and then make a point to eliminate those negative messages and behaviors.
  • Make a habit of regularly cleaning out your medicine cabinets of expired medicines and medicines that are not currently in use.
  • And finally, change the way you behave and talk about medications. Medicines should be used to treat specific symptoms. When you choose to take a medication to treat a headache, upset stomach or cough, tell your child or teen that you are taking a specific medicine to treat a specific symptom.

Hopefully your child or teen will start to model these new behaviors and, as a result, have a healthier outlook on how medicines can – and should – be used properly and safely.

Dr. John Mayer is a leading expert on teenagers and families. He in active clinical practice as well as a consultant and lecturer. Dr. Mayer is the author of over 20 books and 50 professional papers. Two of his three published novels tackle the problem of substance abuse. His web site is: www.DrJohnMayer.com where you will find podcasts, articles and videos on teenagers and families. His fiction author site is: www.jemayerbooks.com.