Parents Sixth Sense

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How parental intuition can spot signs of drug abuse in teens

Intuition is that strong but elusive sense that guides many people’s decisions and actions; for parents, intuition is often the protective, “sixth-sense”, letting them know when things are just not right with their children. The Partnership for Drug-Free Kids, a non-profit organization focused on drug-abuse trends among children and teens, supports the belief that parental intuition is one of the first and most reliable signs of teen drug abuse. Intuition is the catalyst to increase awareness and observation for potentially dangerous behaviors, such as those that indicate prescription medication abuse or addiction.

AKUA Mind & Body Parent Intuition Article

Research has shown that prescription medications are now the most commonly abused drugs among 12 to 13-year olds; and a 2014 study revealed that 19.9% of 12th-graders abused prescription drugs at some point in their lifetime.  If your intuition is telling you that your son or daughter is abusing prescription medications, do not ignore it! Your intuition may be right.

Before approaching your teen, look for any of the following common behavioral, emotional and physical symptoms:

Physical Symptoms of Prescription Medication Abuse

  • Signs of exhaustion: prescription medications often have side-effects that disrupt natural sleep patterns, leading to either insomnia or somnolence
  • Weight loss or obvious change in eating patterns: common prescription medications that are abused include stimulants, which could lead to rapid weight loss. Opiates, anti-anxiety meds, and antipsychotic medications often lead to increased appetite and weight gain
  • Changes in personal hygiene

Emotional & Behavioral Symptoms of Prescription Medication Abuse

  • Increased interest in prescribed medications used by family members in the house; increased drug-seeking behaviors, such as requesting sleep meds or anxiety meds to cope with common, every-day stressors
  • Spending time with “new” friends and avoiding or ignoring former friends
  • Difficulty maintaining obligations, such as important events, sport commitments, etc.
  • Uncharacteristic changes in mood, prolonged periods of sluggishness or hyperactive, “jittery” behavior

Adolescence can be a stressful time in life; many factors can make teens feel overwhelmed, anxious, and insecure. Sleep and hygienic routines, difficulties in concentration, mood swings and confidence levels may be in a constant flux due to hormonal changes, school pressure, and cognitive development; all of these factors can further challenge efforts at recognizing drug-abuse behavior.

Current research into prescription drug-abuse among teens has found that 1 in 6 teens have used a prescription medication to get high; most medications are found at home, given by a family member or close friend, or taken without consent. Signs of prescription medication abuse vary according to type of medication. Typically, uncomfortable side effects of medications can be signs of abuse:

  • Opiate Abuse- Complaints of frequent constipation; insomnia; constricted pupils, drowsy, overtired, with possible brief periods of sleeping, referred to as “nodding” Commonly abused medications: Vicodin, Codeine (sometimes present in prescribed cough syrups) OxyContin, Percocet Withdrawal Signs: chills, muscle and bone aches, anxiety, insomnia, vomiting
  • Benzodiazepine Abuse- Poor memory, slurred speech, poor coordination, dilated pupils, dizziness, and sudden mood changes Commonly abused medications: Xanax, Ativan, Klonopin Withdrawal Signs: “rebound” anxiety, increased irritability; Withdrawals of benzodiazepines can be life threatening, medical assistance is needed for safe detox
  • Non-benzodiazepine Hypnotic Sleep Aids: marked, unnatural sleepiness; bizarre behaviors, including aggression, delusional thinking, slurred speech, and “black outs” Commonly abused medications: Ambien and Lunesta Withdrawal Signs: headaches, insomnia, chills, diarrhea
  • Stimulant Abuse- Anxiety, delusions, increased energy, chest palpitations, long periods of  wakefulness Commonly abused medications: Ritalin, Adderall Withdrawal Signs: insomnia, apathy, lethargy, constipation/diarrhea