Preventing Medicine Misuse, and Alcohol and Drug Use at Home

Dr. Yolanda Evans, Seattle Children’s Adolescent Medicine team

These are unusually challenging and stressful times. The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way humanity lives, upended our patterns for work and school, and rewired our relationships. We are adapting to these new norms during an emotional reckoning about societal injustice and systemic racism.

Teens in particular are grappling with the loss of normal personal connections with peers and heightened worries about the future and their place in it.

We are finding an alarming trend with our patients who have indicated worsened mood and feelings of boredom and isolation, which can result in the misuse of prescription and non-prescription medicines, and using alcohol and drugs as a way to cope.

Here are some tips you can share with parents and caregivers to help keep teens safe as they spend more time at home:

  • Remove expired medicines and medicines you no longer need from your home.
  • Keep all medicines, alcohol and any other drugs in a locked area or in a location that is not accessible to children and teens. Monitor the amount of alcohol kept in the refrigerator or cabinet.
  • Buy smaller bottles of over-the-counter medicines, like acetaminophen (Tylenol) and ibuprofen (Advil).
  • Continue to talk to your child about the dangers of medicine misuse and drug and alcohol use.
  • Help teens think of safe ways to deal with feelings of boredom and isolation. Support them in trying new hobbies or activities at home.
  • Model healthy ways to cope with stress.
  • Watch for changes in behavior. This includes talk of suicide, worsening of mood, and signs of intoxication (slurred speech, stumbling while walking). Call 911 if you are concerned for their immediate safety or the safety of others around them.
  • Put the poison control number in your phone contacts: 1-800-222-1222. Call for free and confidential help with poison prevention and poison treatment advice.
  • Depressed teens are at higher risk for suicide. We recommend that firearms be stored unloaded and locked in a firearm safe or lockbox, or with trigger locks. Store and lock ammunition in a separate place. If a family member is depressed, suicidal or abusing drugs or alcohol, temporarily remove firearms from your home.
  • Call your child’s primary care provider if you are concerned about their mental wellness or substance use.