October 23, 2015 —

When we think of substance abuse and our children, most people imagine teens experimenting with alcohol or marijuana. While those are valid concerns, it may be a surprise to many parents that there are other substances that should also be on their radar – some of which are readily available in the home.

Things to Know About Teens and Abuse

Drug abuse is very serious, whether the drug being abused is heroin or cough syrup, especially when children are involved. Adolescent brains undergo a surge of growth, which can make teens more susceptible to participating in risky behaviors. The National Institute on Drug Abuse points out, “the earlier the drug use begins, the more likely it will progress to more serious abuse, which poses a special challenge to adolescents.”

It is widely believed that exposure to certain drugs or substances before adulthood can interfere with brain development and stall mental progress. The developing minds of children and teens are in the process of “hardwiring” pathways deep within the brain which can solidify habits that are incredibly hard to break.

One of the active ingredients in over-the-counter cough medicine is dextromethorphan, also known as DXM, which can be found in more than 100 medicines sold over-the-counter. Even though many stores have restricted access to these medicines, many parents, grandparents and caregivers store these products in home medicine cabinets, which teens can easily access. Teens are also clever at developing slang terms, like skittles and red devils, to throw parents off the scent of abuse.

Harnessing Social Media to Stay Informed

Monitoring a child’s use of the Internet, social media and cell phone is an effective way parents can stay in the loop in regards to medicine abuse. A child’s social media activity can be helpful when it comes to looking for signs that he or she is abusing cough medicine or other drugs. Teens are taking on Instagram and other social networks about buying and selling these drugs. Often, kids develop hashtags to alert dealers they are looking for a substance and then the dealer will respond to their post. Besides using social media for trading meds, many kids turn to the Internet for information on tips for specific dosages and brands to use to achieve the perfect high.

Monitoring social media provides parents an authentic view of a child’s activity, but we also need to have a conversation about over-the-counter medicine abuse with our kids. Starting a dialogue about the dangers of medicines or drugs has been shown to increase, by 50 percent, the likelihood that a teen will resist drug use. That’s great news!

Spreading Awareness about Medicine Abuse

October is National Medicine Abuse Awareness Month and National Substance Abuse Prevention Month, making it the perfect time to reflect on the growing problem of medicine abuse and our children. Communities can come together to spread awareness to prevent this problem escalating to epidemic proportions. Whether it’s an over-the-counter cough medicine, a prescription or an illicit drug, inappropriate use of these substances can negatively impact our children’s well-being and future happiness.

We need to challenge ourselves to raise awareness and educate fellow parents about this emerging issue. What is one thing you will do today to help prevent children from abusing medicine? Share in the comments below

Tara Heath is a journalist and mother of two in California who guest blogs for TeenSafe. She is passionate about parenting and using her own experience and knowledge to inform and encourage other parents. Follow her on Twitter for more!