As parents, we want to see our kids as individuals who never get to abuse drugs. It's agreeable that some things are just not within our control, but what if our actions indirectly fuel some of them? What if, for example, our action or inaction is what drives our children to substance use? Can we still say it is out of our control?
The U.S Center for Disease Control (CDC) highlighted in one of its posts that six to ten percent of children aged 6 to 17 years are diagnosed with depression, anxiety, or behavioral disorders.1 One of the common behavioral disorders in children, which is attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), is also commonly comorbid with substance use disorder in teenagers. This is not to say that ADHD causes addiction, or vice versa.
The first-line treatment administered for these behavioral disorders, such as Adderall (an amphetamine) and Ritalin, is mostly psycho-stimulant, which can become addictive. In fact, they account for a significant part of the prescription and OTC medications abused by teenagers.2 These drugs are easily obtainable, and children whose behavioral disorders are being managed using these drugs are prone to get addicted.
Due to their stimulating effects, there is the likelihood that a child who is using this medication, or even their otherwise healthy sibling, might divert it for nonmedical use and become addicted. Fortunately, addiction to these drugs can be corrected using medically-supervised drug detox as the first treatment for the addiction.
What should I know before starting a child on medication?
As a parent, you have some control over your child's exposure to drugs that can harm them. Some of the tips discussed below can help you make an informed decision and maintain some control before starting your child on medication.
1. Is the recommended drug necessary?
Though psychotropic drugs are often used in treating behavioral disorders, some FDA-approved non-stimulant medications can also be used.3 Most of the time, doctors recommend stimulant medications to manage the core symptoms of behavioral disorders. In cases that are otherwise, administering such stimulants to a child might not be necessary, and the doctor might opt for a non-stimulant instead.
If you are wary of drugs that have the potential to spur your child into drug addiction, you might need to have an informed discussion with your doctor to ascertain the relevance and absolute necessity of the drug in treatment. For example, a non-stimulant alternative like Atomoxetine could be used in the first-line treatment of ADHD, and it is just as effective as Adderall.
If your child is an adolescent with a history of addiction, you might have to avoid psychotropic drugs, as they could cause a relapse. However, if your child was enrolled for an evidence-based sober living home after their addiction treatment, they could use a stimulant drug without relapsing. Nevertheless, it is best to opt for an alternative non-stimulant drug if your child has a substance use history.
2. If it is a new medication, has it been tested and approved?
Now and then, a new drug slips into the market, causes some havoc, and gets recalled – but the damages they cause might be permanent. In 2017, over 4,400 drugs and device products were recalled from the market, 139 of which had the potential to cause grievous harm or death.4 Annually, drugs are being recalled more often than you think, especially new ones.
For your child's sake, you need to know the composition and potency of the drug that has been prescribed. Also, you should know if its use is evidence-based. If possible, you should try as much as possible to avoid drugs that just made an entry into the market. Request for proven FDA-approved drugs that have been in the market for a long time.
3. The side effects and warning signs to look out for
Before you get your child started on a medication, you must know the side effects. What condition or situation requires the immediate attention of the doctor? In case of a medical emergency, what should you do? Being aware of these things would get you better prepared for whatever might happen if your child is on certain medications.
4. The risk in combining some drugs
As a parent, make your child's healthcare provider aware of the drugs your child is currently using, or prescriptions that your child completed recently. It takes a while for some drugs to wear off, and sometimes combining these drugs actively or passively with other medications can yield dangerous side effects.
Endeavor to inform the health practitioner of your child's history with drugs. In doing this, you make it easier for the doctor to prescribe drugs correctly while minimizing the risks of improper drug combinations.
5. Were proper evaluations carried out?
It is one thing to seek treatment; it is another to get appropriate treatment. If your child is suffering from a disorder or illness, you should ensure they are getting the right treatment for that particular illness. This is especially important in the case of behavioral disorders and illnesses that share similar symptoms with others.
While some illnesses might have similar symptoms, their treatment or management might require highly differing pharmacotherapies, which can be very harmful to your child, if applied pointlessly. Truly, doctors put in a lot of effort into doing their jobs meticulously. Nevertheless, it doesn't hurt to double-check and be sure that proper diagnosis was carried out before medications are prescribed.
Caution over convenience
While medications are very effective in relieving various illnesses and making us healthy, they can also be very harmful substances if administered wrongly. It is convenient to accept any medication that is thrown your way, and then offer it to your child. However, in your excitement for receiving treatment for your child's ailment, you shouldn't throw caution to the wind.
Ask questions to understand the purpose of the medications, the side effects, benefits, risks, and overall relevance of the drugs to your child's health. If it's a stimulant drug, are the doses too high or moderate?
The prevalence of addiction among teenagers in the U.S is real. And the numbers continue to grow as kids continue to shift from the abuse of prescription and over-the-counter drugs to other substances. If your child or a loved one struggles with addiction, now is the time to sign them up in a rehab center with an exemplary track record in addiction treatment.