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Talking to Your Kids about Drugs and Alcohol


According to the most recent National Survey on Drug Use and Health, the average age for first use of an illegal substance among school aged children is 12 years old. This finding likely means that some adolescents start to use illegal substances at an even younger age. In 2014, slightly more than 2.3 million adolescents aged 12 to 17 were current users of illicit drugs, which represent 9.4% of adolescents.

Many adolescents do not view prescription medications as harmful substances, even if they are being misused or abused. This misconception is compounded by family members or friends who may offer to share their medications. Fourteen percent of high school seniors have reported using prescription medications for non-medical reasons. An alarming and sobering fact that many families are unaware of is the primary source of drugs for 12 to 14 year olds—the medicine cabinet at home.

As a parent, learning the lingo related to the adolescent abuse of drugs and prescription medications is an important step in protecting your child. “Pharming Parties” refer to the non-medicinal use of prescription medications and over-the-counter cough and cold remedies at parties. Parents may also hear references to “Skittles parties” or “Skittling”, which refers to pill parties. At “Pharming Parties” or “Skittle Parties” adolescents typically bring any medications they were able to procure, add it to a communal bowl, and consume handfuls of pills or over-the-counter drugs with alcohol. Another common practice is known as “Robo-tripping”. Users may drink excessive amounts of the active ingredient dextromethorphan, found in cough suppressants such as Robitussin.

In an effort to get high, an estimated 15% of teens have resorted to non-prescription cold and cough medications, as indicated by the Partnership for Drug-Free kids. The practice of abusing prescription medications is dangerous, and has long term effects on an individual’s health and well-being. According to The Medicine Abuse Project, nearly half of the young people who eventually inject heroin start by abusing prescription drugs.

It is important to remind children and teenagers to only take prescription medication that has been prescribed specifically for them. As a parent or guardian, you can take steps within the home to protect your child, and your child’s friends:

  • Keep your medications in a secure place in your home
  • Safely dispose of expired or unused medications that you no longer need
  • Remain educated on the latest drug and alcohol trends among young people, and share what you learn with other parents
  • Talk to child about the dangers of drug, alcohol, and prescription drug abuse

Talking with your children about the use of drugs and/or alcohol can sometimes be an uncomfortable subject to bring up. To help you with this process, there are many tools available to you through The Partnership for Drug-Free Kids and The Medicine Abuse Project. Healthcare providers can also aid in providing education and encouraging families to have conversations with their children about substance abuse and misconceptions about prescription medications.

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