Study Links Teen Drug Abuse to TV Commercials

April 14, 2015

Most parents will worry about their child using drugs or alcohol. However, they may have something else they need to worry about: prescription medication.

A growing problem
Prescription drug abuse is quickly becoming one of the biggest health issues in the U.S. While the number of people abusing these medications grows, very few know exactly how dangerous misuse can be, and what it might lead to. In 2011, more than 52 million people over the age of 12 took prescription medication for nonmedical reasons. The most common type of medication abused is prescription painkillers. While abuse is primarily the highest among adults, it is also becoming fairly popular among adolescents. Many teens do not have a prescription, but rather steal or buy drugs from a friend or loved one. Advertising may be to blame.

Researchers from the University of Arkansas and the University of Virginia discovered when it comes to prescription medication, teens may not know exactly how dangerous abusing these drugs can be, and advertising might be behind it.

In 2011, more than 52 million people over age 12 took prescription medication for non-medical reasons.

“Prescription drugs are seen as blessed by a trusted institution, the FDA, while increasingly aggressive advertising by drug companies simultaneously floods parents and children with messages that these substances are safe, popular, and beneficial,” lead author Richard Netemeyer, Ph.D., and his colleagues wrote.

Connecting the dots
The study authors wanted to determine the effects of prescription drug marketing on teens, so they conducted a Web-based questionnaire. Their survey on teen drug abuse asked questions about use of alcohol, tobacco, drugs and medication. It also asked adolescents about their knowledge of the risks associated with prescription medication, whether they wanted to be popular and if they dealt with anxiety. They found that participants who acknowledged experiencing anxiety or desired popularity were more likely to abuse prescription medication. They also found a correlation between non-medical use and alcohol abuse.

The researchers noted that adults should be aware of these vulnerabilities in teens and steer them toward seeking help instead of attempting to self-medicate with opioids. While certain groups, such as males who seek popularity, may be the most likely to abuse prescription drugs, parents and teachers should keep a close eye on all adolescents as these drugs become more popular and accepted in every group.

Parents may also benefit from an education in prescription drugs, including how to properly hide them from their adolescents and how to talk to their children about the dangers of these drugs.

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