The Warning Signs Every Parent Should Look Out For

Every month, we keep you informed on the latest studies and research in our “Not My Teen” blog series. Today, we’re looking at a Kentucky State Journal article highlighting a recent workshop designed to help parents pick up on signs of substance abuse in teens.

The warning signs of risky behaviors such as substance abuse are hardly cut-and-dry, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to pick up on them. In a recent workshop for parents called “Hidden in Plain Sight,” Kentucky State Police set up a mock bedroom with 115 clues indicating substance abuse. Seemingly innocent things like gummy bears or even a can of shaving cream can be used to hide substance abuse.  As Kentucky State Police Trooper Robert Purdy said in this article, “Nobody is going to be more involved in a child’s life than a parent or a teacher. Law enforcement can’t be everywhere, so it is up to them to really get involved, to look for things, to know what they are looking for, to hopefully have an impact on a child’s life.” Other communities have held similar workshops, such as this “Behind Closed Doors” workshop in Pennsylvania. Efforts like these make a huge difference in the fight to stop medicine abuse in teens, but you can also help by learning about the warning signs you can look out for in your own home or community.

Picking Up on Medicine Abuse in Your Own Home

Every parent, guardian, and teacher should keep an eye out for these warning signs – they could indicate a teen is abusing over-the-counter (OTC) cough medicine, a substance that 1 in 30 teens has abused to get high.

  • Unusual chemical or medicinal smells
  • Empty cough medicine boxes or bottles in the trash or in their backpack
  • Missing or suddenly-empty boxes or bottles of medicine in home medicine cabinets
  • Use of slang terms for abusing DXM: tussin, robo-tripping, purple drank, robo, CCC, triple Cs, skittles, skittling, dexing, DXM, and others.
  • Unexplained disappearance of household money
  • Purchasing large amounts of cough medicine when they’re not sick
  • Arrival of unexpected online orders or unexplained payments by credit card or PayPal account

Watch for Changes in Behavior

A teen’s behavior is perhaps one of the least predictable things in a parent’s life, which can make it difficult to pick up on changes that could signal that something more serious than a mood swing is occurring. Parents should always be paying attention to their teen’s ups and downs and habit changes so they’re able to pick up on any red flags. While some behavior changes come with teen life, a drastic change in these things should pique your attention:

  • Changes in friends, physical appearance or sleeping or eating patterns
  • Declining grades
  • Loss of interest in hobbies or favorite activities
  • Hostile and uncooperative attitude

Can You Spot the Differences Below?


You can learn more about detecting and preventing OTC medicine abuse by clicking here. Stay updated on new studies and trends in teen behavior, advice for keeping teens away from risky behaviors, general teen parenting tips, and more by keeping up with the Stop Medicine Abuse initiative on Facebook, Twitter, and our blog. To know which OTC cough medicines have the potential to be abused, you can look for the Stop Medicine Abuse Icon below.