Teen Drug Use Linked to 'Problem Parents'

Survey Blames Drug Abuse on Parents Who Don't Monitor Kids' Activities

Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD on August 14, 2008
From the WebMD Archives

Aug. 14, 2008 -- Parents who fail to monitor their school-age children's activities and leave prescription drugs within easy reach play a major contributing role in teen drug abuse, according to a new survey.

A report based on the survey targets "problem parents" who make it easy for their teens to smoke, drink alcohol, or use illegal and prescription drugs because they frequently don't know where their children are on school nights, fail to keep their prescription drugs out of reach, and don't talk about the dangers of drug or alcohol abuse.

The report was based on findings from the 13th annual back-to-school survey of teens and parents conducted by Columbia University's National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA).

Among the major findings from the survey:

  • Almost half of 12- to 17-year olds said they routinely left their homes to hang out with their friends on school nights, but only 14% of parents said their kids did this.
  • A third of the teens with friends who abused prescription drugs said the friends got the drugs from their home medicine cabinets, and another third said friends or classmates could easily supply them.
  • One in four teens said they knew of a parent of a classmate or friend who smoked marijuana, and one in 10 said this parent smoked marijuana with teenagers.
  • For the first time, more teens said prescription drugs were easier to buy than beer. The percentage of teens who considered prescription drugs the easiest drug to buy increased by 46% over the previous year.

"Kids are getting these drugs from their homes or from their friends' homes, but there is a tremendous disconnect or denial among parents about this," former U.S. Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare and CASA Chairman Joseph A. Califano Jr. tells WebMD.

School Stress and Drug Use

The CASA report was one of two national surveys tracking behaviors and attitudes about teen drug use released this week, and both revealed a wide gap between teen behaviors and parental awareness of those behaviors.

Dealing with school stress was cited as a major motivation for drug abuse by teens participating in the 20th annual Partnership for a Drug-Free America survey.

Almost three in four teens (73%) said school stress was the No. 1 reason for using drugs, but only 7% of parents recognized this as a possible reason for drug abuse by their children.

While the survey confirmed that overall drug use continues to decline among teens, a downward trend has not been seen in the abuse of prescription and over-the-counter medications.

One-in-five teens who participated in the survey said they had abused prescription drugs and 41% considered prescription drugs safer than illegal drugs.

"Overall, this generation of teenagers is partying less and getting high less, but what they are using and some of the reasons why they are using are very different than in the past," Partnership for a Drug-Free America President Steve Pasierb tells WebMD.

Throw Old Drugs Away

Pasierb says parents often don't understand that a wide range of prescription drugs are being abused by teens.

"They've heard about OxyContin and Vicodin in the news, and they think they're OK if they don't have these drugs in the house," he says. "What they don't understand is that there are 40 or more different prescription drugs that are widely abused."

His advice to parents: Take an inventory of the prescription drugs in your home and dispose of old ones, especially sedatives, tranquilizers, pain medications, and attention deficit drugs.

"There are literally millions of prescriptions sitting around on medicine shelves across America that need to be thrown away," Pasierb says.

And parents should consider locking up any prescription drugs that might be abused, he says.

Talk to Your Teens

The prescription-drug death of 28-year-old actor Heath Ledger in January raised awareness about prescription drug abuse, making many teens aware that prescription drugs can be just as deadly as street drugs when they are abused, Pasierb says.

The actor's current high profile as the star of the popular Batman movie The Dark Knight also represents a unique opportunity for parents to talk with their children about prescription drug abuse and drug use in general, he adds.

"Ask your kids what they think of Heath Ledger dying and then really listen to what they say," he says. "Conversations like that will make the difference. It isn't about having the big scary drug conversation. It's about a lot of smaller conversations that aren't so scary."

Show Sources


"National Survey of American Attitudes on Substance Abuse XIII: Teens and Parents," National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA), Aug. 14, 2008.

20th Annual Partnership for a Drug-Free America teen study, Aug. 11, 2008.

Steve Pasierb, president and CEO, Partnership for a Drug-Free America.

Joseph A. Califano Jr., chairman, National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse, Columbia University, New York City.

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