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Adventures in Sleep

Self Medicating

Published October 6, 2014 12:49 PM by Penny Mehaffey

New research shows alarming but not surprising data that teens the world over self -medicate with over-the counter and prescription drugs. The statistics are:

  • young people age 13 to 18 routinely self-medicate with over-the-counter and prescription medications for various health concerns;
  • 22 percent of U.S. teens indicated that they overmedicated with painkillers; and 
  • around 14 to 28 percent of teens reported that they gave away, loaned or sold their prescription medications. 

The risky practice often continues into adulthood. Teenagers are highly impressionable and affected by their environment. They often have a tendency to adopt the habits of their parents. Peer pressure can also be a big influence. The fact that teens adopt the habits of their parents and peers comes really as no surprise though. 

Parents, whether they realize it or not, have a huge impact on the behavior of their teens. We are constantly under their microscope and they desperately need our guidance.  They need to be shown how to develop good sleep habits and routines, going to bed at a set time & waking at a set time, refraining from electronic devices 30 minutes before bed and developing a relaxing bedtime routine. But they most likely won't do this without parental monitoring and pressure. 

Left to their own devices, teens will stay up all night on the cell phone and sleep with the television playing. They will nap half the day and their circadian rhythm will get disrupted. This is the lament of many a sleep professional.

A study of U.S. teens further found 22 percent overmedicated with painkillers and 14 percent did not inform their parents about their use. The prevalence of self-medication was higher in females in most countries. Around 14 to 28 percent of teens gave away, loaned or sold their prescription medication, particularly pain killers, stimulants and sleep medication.

This is particularly disturbing to me because of the number of teens and young adults we see with daytime sleepiness, ADD & ADHD who are being treated. I know at our facility it is common practice to obtain urine samples for testing to make sure the expected drugs/levels are present. 

It's not hopeless though. Parents must use their influence over their teens for good in this area and be proactive instead of reactive.  The prevalence of self-medication in the studies ranged from 2 percent to 92 percent, with some of the highest use in Germany, the U.S., India, and Kuwait. "The good news is that federal data (from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health) show that initiation of prescription drug abuse is now actually declining among adolescents-even as it continues to grow among older demographics."

For Additional Reading:                                                                                                                                                 

  • Reach the Health Behavior News Service, part of the Center for Advancing Health, at (202) 387-2829, hbns-editor@cfah.org
  • Journal of Adolescent Health: Contact Tor Berg at (415) 502-1373 or tor.berg@ucsf.edu or visit http://www.jahonline.org/
  • Shehnaz SI, Agarwal AK, Khan N. A systematic review of self-medication practices among adolescents. Journal of Adolescent Health. 2014.

1 comments

REGARDS. CURRENTLY USE THE MACHINE HUMIDIFIER YCON SLEEP APNEA AND I WORRY EXHALATION VALVE IS IN RUBBER BLACK GIVES SOME SPOTS AS IF MUSHROOM DIFFICULT TO REMOVE . WHAT SHOULD I DO ABOUT IT OR IF THERE ANOTHER WAY VALVE PUTTING ON THE MASK ( CHANGE VALVE )

NANCY CHAPARRO, , enfermera professor October 6, 2015 4:26 PM
Aguadilla PR

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    Adventures in Sleep
    Occupation: Sleep technicians
    Setting: Various sleep facilities
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