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How Parents Can Help Prevent Prescription Drug Abuse Among Teens

With the increasing rate of anxiety in recent years, more medicine cabinets than ever hold benzodiazepines, which are prescribed for anxiety and insomnia under brand names such as Xanax and Valium. The growing availability of these pharmaceuticals is also accompanied by misunderstandings—and sometimes tragic consequences. While the opioid crisis is the most widely discussed example of prescription drug abuse, educators and health professionals in my network are also concerned about the frequency of teens becoming addicted to “benzos.”

Benzodiazepines are tranquilizers that calm the nerves by suppressing brain chemicals that trigger a fear response. Although they must be prescribed by doctors, benzos are prevalent enough to become a cultural reference point in song lyrics, movie dialogue and comedic routines. Over time, people’s bodies may become habituated to these medications, thus requiring people to take more to achieve the desired effect. High doses or extended use can lead to addiction, and mixing benzos with alcohol or other drugs can lead to death. Nonetheless, the rate of prescriptions is growing.

A study published in the American Journal of Public Health found that the number of adults filling a prescription for benzos jumped 67 percent between 1996 and 2013. Parents can help teens avoid addiction by keeping close track of their prescriptions and explicitly teaching children that doctors write prescriptions based on the unique medical history of each individual. Taking someone else’s prescription has potentially higher consequences for young people because they may be receiving adult doses. Plus, the U.S. Surgeon General reports that trying illicit drugs before the age of thirteen increases an individual’s likelihood of developing a substance disorder.

Even when teens have prescriptions of their own, parents can teach (and model) that pharmacology is just one part of an overall plan for a healthy lifestyle. In general, the less people rely on drugs—prescribed or otherwise—to regulate their emotional state, the better. Healthy patterns for sleep, exercise, and socializing are all critical strategies for handling stress in our lives. Increasingly, doctors are seeing positive effects from writing prescriptions for patients to engage with nature

The Surgeon General writes that “having a feeling that one has control over one’s successes and failures…having a sense of a positive future ahead, and emotional resilience are other examples of protective factors” that reduce the likelihood of addiction issues. This is why at The Bertram Group, we believe so strongly in the power of education. Whether students are on a traditional academic path or are struggling in some way, we are always available to help young people find the school settings that will help them build successful lives of meaning and purpose.

Jeremy McGeorge specializes in serving families whose children need nontraditional​ services as part of their educational plan. He can be reached at jeremy@thebertramgroup.com