Is My Child Using Prescription Pills?

It’s not easy to think that your teenager could be a child using prescription pills as a form of escape or recreation. But studies conducted in 2016 found that over 18% of high school students abuse prescription drugs, with many more using marijuana and alcohol. The most important things a parent can do is to exercise vigilance for the signs of abuse and take action when it is needed. Here are some signs to watch for if you suspect your teen might be abusing prescription drugs.

Changes in Sleep

A child using prescription pills recreationally, especially opioids, will usually have a different sleep pattern from the one they had before taking the drugs. Opioids can cause nausea, restlessness, and cold sweats. These symptoms can stop a teen from falling asleep. Even if they do sleep at their regular time, they may wake up frequently and roam the house at odd hours. The effects of prescription drugs can create both sedation and wakefulness, which serves to be a major disruption to sleep patterns.

Secretive Behavior

Some teens on drugs will start exhibiting a secretive behavior. If they suddenly start going out at night or locking their door when they didn’t do so in the past, it could be a cause for alarm. Teens that start hiding their text messages and emails from parents could prove to be troublesome.

Sometimes they will hide poor schoolwork by refusing to discuss it or hiding grades from parents. This could be an indication that drug abuse has impacted their school life and that they help.

Trouble In School

If grades continue to plummet, the cause could be a lack of concentration from the drug effects. Opioids can make continued focus difficult, making it hard to sustain good grades. In some cases, classes may be skipped altogether.

Schools keep records on attendance for each class, and often the results can be found through an online parent portal. Don’t hesitate to check and see if there are unexplained absences in classes where there should not be any. This is a good indication of an unwanted behavior change.

Complaints from teachers about misbehavior in classes can also be a warning sign of a child using prescription pills. Since warnings are sometimes sent home with the student, you may not be aware of any problems. This again is why it is essential to use an online parent portal the school may be providing instead of relying on the teenager to be your only connection to the school.

Changes in Appetite

Watch for any sudden changes in appetite. Teenagers will sometimes develop changes in hunger as they go through growth spurts, but sudden changes can be problematic. Drug abuse can cause both increased appetites as well as the lack of one. So the critical thing to watch for here is a sudden change.

A new craving for an odd or different food could be an indication that something is not right. Prescription drugs can affect the taste of foods, leaving the abuser wanting items that in the past they did not. Sometimes it can be a dramatic shift from their regular meal favorites.

Weight loss can be an indication of an ongoing loss of appetite, and it should be looked into if it is unexplained. Of course, many teens will shed weight as they mature into young adulthood. However, a dramatic change—especially weight loss— may be a sign of a child using prescription pills.

Physical Changes

A teen abusing prescription drugs may also experience physical changes. Bloodshot eyes can be an indicator that the body is under a lot of duress or not getting proper sleep. Often flushed cheeks will accompany red eyes, or they can be found independently.

Depending on the depth of their dependence and the substances they abuse, some teens will exhibit shaking or unsteadiness in their movements. If this progresses, they may show uncontrollable tremors while at rest or performing simple physical tasks.

An abuser may suffer from nosebleeds or a runny nose when there is no explanation for one. They may have other facial issues, such as the need to continually lick their lips or an eye that twitches.

A person abusing opioid prescription drugs may not experience physical pain like other people. One of the reasons for prescribing such drugs in the first place is to manage such pain, so a teen that seems to not experience any could be a reason for concern.

Clothing styles may be adapted to camouflage a problem. For example, wearing long sleeves during warm weather may be a way to hide track marks or sores. (Yes, teens do convert prescription pills into powders or liquids they can inject into their bloodstream.) Bulky clothing may be worn to mask a weight loss or bruising that can happen as a result of prescription drug abuse. A sudden disheveled appearance could be an indication that the clothes are being used to cover up rashes or scratches instead of being a fashion statement.

Poor Personal Hygiene

Along with a disheveled appearance, overall personal hygiene may become an issue. In fact, this is often one of the first signs of your child using prescription pills. One of your teen’s main concerns is their appearance. If their focus shifts from being socially motivated, it took something very influential to distract them. They may be neglecting their hygiene because their concentration is dedicated to looking for their next drug experience.

You may notice that their hair or nails are no longer maintained as they once were, and bathing becomes a chore that they will often avoid. If personal hygiene becomes a problem where it wasn’t in the past, it may be a good indication that it’s time to start looking for additional clues.

Mood Changes In A Child Using Prescription Pills

Rarely do you find a teen that is not moody, it’s part of the maturation process as these budding adults make sense of their place in the world. But sudden changes can often be a sign that something is wrong. When confronted about these mood changes, an abuser can become very hostile. This can serve to divide the family, making interaction difficult.

Depression is often found to be a problem with a child using prescription pills. After the high from opioids wears off, the after-effects have been known to create feelings of despair and isolation. There is a direct link between many prescription drugs and hormones, which can cause depression.

Drug abuse can mess with the body’s primary pleasure and reward centers, which can worsen existing problems with depression. Those with pre-existing depression issues are more likely to have addiction problems with controlled substances as they seek a means to escape from their suffering.

If you have a slightly depressed teen that shows a sudden worsening of symptoms, it could be an indication of substance abuse. Now is the time to be kind, firm, and proactive. It’s crucial to engage and investigate sooner rather than later because of the escalating susceptibility to drug abuse and addiction.

Noticing Changes At Home

Changes in the home may be a sign that something is not right. While it is rarely as apparent as a discovered stash of drugs (but it does happen), other changes may occur. For example, you may find wrappers or a lighter that defies explanation.

Some personal care items found around the house, such as eye drops and bandages, could be a reason for concern. It could even extend outside of the home, such as car dents that mysteriously appear without explanation.

Don’t Be Afraid To Talk If You Have Suspicions

If you suspect prescription drug abuse, don’t be afraid to talk to your teen about your concerns. In many cases, the situation has a simple explanation that a parent may overlook. You’ll want to give them a chance to tell their side of the story. Listen with genuine concern to what they have to say.

Don’t hold back on asking the big questions, either. Sometimes the most straightforward questions can be the hardest to ask but ask them anyway. If you feel that the conversation could get out of hand, consult with the NIDA Family Checkup tool first. You may find that this resource helps you to approach your teen and identify what could be a more significant problem.

It’s not always easy to be the parent of a teenager, but sometimes you need to go the extra effort to watch for signs of drug abuse. It has been shown that a little help at the beginning of a drug problem can help resolve many of the underlying issue contributing to the substance use before it gets out of hand. That makes knowing the signs of abuse an essential parental skill for any parent or grandparent.


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