Think Locking the Liquor Cabinet is Enough? Think Again.
The title of this article brings up three important issues. First, home is not the only place children and adolescents can acquire alcohol. Second, alcohol is not the only household substance that has the potential for abuse and addiction. Finally, many parents are either unaware of these problems, or simply choose to ignore them.
Where do minors get alcohol and where do they consume it?
Unfortunately, some parents do not see any harm in providing minors with alcohol, and allow their teens to host parties and provide alcoholic beverages in their home. Some think that their teens will perceive them as "cool", others do it believing that, if the teen plan to drink anyway, they might as well be supervised. The fact is that sanctioning and enabling underage drinking is illegal in the United States, and some parents have had to learn this have faced fines and jail time as a result of poor decisions. Underage drinkers may also get their beverages from friends, parents of friends, stores with lax policies about checking identification, college parties, and individuals who may use the alcohol in a "trade". A recent report by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration indicated that the majority of adolescents are drinking either in their own home or in the home of someone else. Other locations included parks, parking lots, beaches, cars or other vehicles, clubs, bars, and restaurants. Interestingly, the study found the 16-year-old females were 8 times more likely to consume alcohol in a car or other vehicle than females who were 4 years older. Parents should be vigilant about potential changes in their teen's behavior when they get their driver's license and first car – and the corresponding independence that comes with it.
What other household substances might a child or adolescent abuse?
An increasing number of teens are experimenting with prescription drugs and inhalants. Parents need to be aware of the threats that these household substances can pose to their children. Prescription medications – Because they are more easy to acquire than substances like heroin and cocaine – and because they have less of a stigma associated with them – prescription medicines are becoming more popular with teens who seek an easy, inexpensive high. Opiate pain killers like Vicodin and Oxycontin as well as benzodiazepines including Xanax, Valium, and Ativan, which are used in the treatment of anxiety disorders, are especially popular with teenagers. Both of these classes of drugs depress the central nervous system and can produce feelings of relaxation and/or euphoria. A distressing number of teenagers are attending "pharm parties". Before the party, attendees harvest or "pharm" the medicine cabinets of their family, neighbors, and others. At the party, all pills are placed in a central bowl, and participants experiment with different drugs. Websites even offer recipes for highs that can be achieved through different combination's of pills. If you have noticed missing medications – or someone else in the family has complained of the disappearance of pills – you may want to bring up the question with your teen. But even if your teen is not abusing prescription drugs, having a conversation about it before they are approached by someone else could prevent it from becoming a problem in the future. Inhalants – Like prescription medications, inhalants are inexpensive and easy to find. Inhalants are chemical products that, in the retail market, are classified into four categories: propellants (including aerosols), thinners, gasoline, and solvents. Although it is possible to get high simply from prolonged inhalation of these substances, people who abuse inhalants usually choose to "bag" or "huff" them. Bagging involves putting the substance in a bag and breathing in and out with the bag over the nose and/or mouth. Inhalants can also be administered by breathing directly from an aerosol can or through a cloth that has been soaked in a given substance. Both of these methods concentrate the vapors and produce faster results. Depending on the substance, the high can last from a few seconds to a few hours. Research suggests that inhalants are popular among males in suburban communities, but this does not mean that other groups are not at risk. While it may be difficult to miss signs of a teen sneaking into the garage and pouring gasoline in a bag, other substances may seem unlikely candidates for abuse. For example, Dust-Off, a product that is used to clean computer keyboards, has become a popular inhalant. Dust-Off contains difluoroethane, and abuse of the product has caused a number of deaths. But Dust-Off is only one example of many, many household substances that have the potential for abuse. Both parents and teens may have the unfortunate misconception that, while misuse of these products may harm a user, because they are sold in the mass market, they must at least be "okay" and "won't cause that much damage". The truth is that inhalants can cause serious physical problems and even lead to death in some cases.
What can parents do?
If you suspect that your teen is addicted to alcohol, prescription medicines, or inhalants, it may be time to seek professional help. Even if they do not have a problem with abuse or addiction, prevention is an important part of keeping your children healthy and safe. Talk to your teen about the dangers of misusing substances.
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