Could Your Tween be Abusing OTC Cough Medicine?

From peer pressure and curiosity to stress and mental health struggles, some teens turn to substances to cope or fit in. Thankfully, there are studies that show the benefits of early intervention strategies and ongoing conversations. We’ve certainly seen this in our work on the Stop Medicine Abuse prevention campaign.

Each year, a nationwide survey tracks OTC medicine abuse rates among 8th, 10th, and 12th graders and we’ve seen a trend emerge. While abuse rates among 10th and 12th graders have steadily decreased over many years, the data for 8th graders shows a different trend in recent years. Among this youngest age group, rates of abuse have increased, which suggests that tweens may be exposed to OTC medicine abuse earlier than you might think.

As we know, the behaviors of tweens are often influenced by societal factors as well as the observed behaviors of older teens, including siblings. This reality, alongside the trend noted above, has underscored the need to start education around medicine abuse earlier.

Early intervention has been shown to help reduce abuse rates but knowing how and when to step in isn’t easy. Here are some signs of OTC cough medicine abuse to look out for:

  • Empty cough medicine boxes or bottles in the trash, your child’s backpack, or their school locker
  • Your child’s purchase and/or use of large amounts of cough medicine when they aren’t sick
  • Hearing your child use certain slang terms for DXM abuse, such as lean, robotripping, and dexing
  • Changes in your child’s friends, physical appearance, and/or sleeping or eating patterns
  • Your child’s declining grades and performance at school
  • Your child’s loss of interest in hobbies or favorite activities
  • Your child displaying a hostile and uncooperative attitude
  • Unexplained disappearance of household money
  • Unusual chemical or medicinal smells on your child or in their room

By familiarizing yourself with signs of potential medicine abuse, the associated risks, and prevention strategies, you can help support and safeguard your tweens and teens. Initiating conversations about safe medicine use has also been shown to be an effective way to promote responsible behavior and reduce abuse rates. In fact, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration (SAMHSA) says that “it’s better to talk before children are exposed” to substances.

In summary, medicine abuse does not exist in a vacuum and the act is often intertwined with broader societal influences. Even though younger children and tweens may appear too young to grasp the concept of abusing OTC cough medicine, the survey data indicates that tweens and younger children might be exposed earlier than you may think.

By educating yourself about the signs of medicine abuse, fostering age-appropriate open conversations, and staying informed about your child’s experiences and surroundings, you can be proactive in preventing medicine abuse from taking root and addressing potential issues early. Especially with school out of session, summer is a great season for you to spend quality time with your kids, check in with them, and make sure they feel supported. By being proactive, you can not only protect your tweens and teens but also equip them with the knowledge, understanding, and skills to make healthier choices for their futures.

Take Action

Increased awareness can only mean increased prevention. Join us in the fight against teen cough medicine abuse by exploring and sharing our free resources.