Teens Who Get ‘The Talk’ Much Less Likely to Abuse Prescription Drugs
Failing to recognize the scope of the prescription drug abuse epidemic is a big part of the problem. Many parents make the mistake of assuming that prescription drug abuse is a problem among a relatively small number of teenagers and believe that their own children could not possibly be among those affected. The “not my kid” phenomenon can apply to illegal drugs as well, but parents seem to recognize that illegal drugs and the pressure to try them are widespread without recognizing that this applies to prescription drugs as well.
Prescription drug abuse was not nearly as significant a problem when the parents of today’s teenagers were themselves teens. They are more likely to recall being warned away from illegal drugs like cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine and marijuana, or even to recall their own experiments with such drugs. As a result, illegal substances are at the forefront of most parents’ minds when it comes to having the drug talk.
Parents and Teens Believe Prescription Drug Abuse Is Safer
Many parents also fail to recognize the dangers of prescription drug abuse. They frequently believe that prescription drugs are safer than illicit drugs and occasionally even provide their teenagers with medications for which the teens do not have prescriptions. According to a 2013 study from the Partnership at Drugfree.org, 16 percent of parents believe that abusing prescription drugs is safer than abusing illegal drugs, and 27 percent of teenagers also believe this is true. According to the same study, only 16 percent of parents talked with their teens about the risks of prescription drug abuse.
Many parents do not treat prescription medications as dangerous substances, which can impact the way a teen views them. Parents may share prescription medications when they believe they are using them in a medically appropriate way, and they often do not dispose of expired medications. This casual attitude toward these drugs promotes the belief among teenagers that prescription drugs do not involve risks.
Delaying the Talk Can Mean It Comes Too Late
Some parents simply put off speaking with their teenagers about drug abuse, either because they are uncomfortable with the topic or because they are worried about making their children aware of drugs at too young an age. However, prescription drug abuse is a problem that can strike very young, and these parents are unintentionally leaving their teens without important cautionary information. Approximately 20 percent of teenagers who have misused or abused prescription drugs experimented with these substances before the age of 14.
In addition to revealing that parents rarely talk to their teenagers about prescription drug abuse, the 2013 study also suggested that this has a real influence on how likely teens are to abuse medications. Overall, 19 percent of teens who learned a lot about prescription drug abuse from parents or grandparents experimented with these drugs at least once, compared to 33 percent of teens who learned nothing about prescription drug abuse. Teens were twice as likely to abuse pain relievers if they learned nothing about prescription drug abuse (24 percent vs. 12 percent) and twice as likely to abuse Ritalin if they knew nothing about prescription drug abuse (20 percent vs. 10 percent).