Findings shows that parents’ own substance abuse and the parent-child relationship for sure influences teens’ misuse of prescription pain pills.
“Children, practically do what we do, not what we tell them.” This old saying is true when it comes to abuse of prescription opioids. A study of 35,000 parent-teen pairs found that when parents abuse pain pills, their teenage children were 30 percent more likely to misuse them as well.
This pattern of inter-generational misuse was further influenced by the quality of the parent-child relationship, and how much the parents monitored their teens. The teens’ own attitude towards drugs, and risk factors such as depression, also had effect on whether they abused opioids.
“What we sure know is that parental behavior certainly influences the child’s own habits,” says Denise Kandel, PhD, senior author of the study and professor of psychiatry at Columbia University. “Why? Because the child observes the parent’s use and decides to copy them.”
In homes where parents did not misuse prescribed opioids, 8 percent of children reported using and misusing opioids. But that number jumped to 14 percent if the parent had misused it.
Evidently, the research found that mothers’ habits influenced children more than fathers. The influence was also stronger with daughters than sons. And copycat misuse was higher among older adolescents than younger ones.
Published in the March 2019 issue of the journal Pediatrics, the study drew on nine years of data from the National Surveys on Drug Use and Health to analyze nonmedical prescription use of opioids. The term refers to prescription drugs that are not used as prescribed — so they could have been taken for longer than needed, taken in greater amounts, obtained from friends or family, or obtained through illegal means.
“When a person starts using drugs, the earlier they start, the more likely they are to persist in using it and becoming heavy users,” Dr. Kandel said. “This has been documented with smoking, marijuana, and cocaine.”
What Parents Can Do
The study findings had useful takeaways for parents concerned about teen drug use.
If parents kept an eye on who their children spent most of their time with, what they did with peers, how much television they watched, and oversaw their homework, supported, and encouraged them, it had a positive impact.
On the other hand, conflict and arguments had a negative impact. If a teen was depressed, the tendency to misuse opioids was stronger.
If teens perceived that it was harmful to use or abuse opioids, then they resisted doing so. What their classmates did and the extent to which their peers abused drugs also contributed to their attitudes of perceived harm.
“These are attitudes that can be changed by addressing mental health issues, increasing monitoring, targeting the attitude and perception, and parents’ habits,” said Pamela Griesler, PhD, the study’s first author and research scientist at Columbia University.
“If the parent perceives drug use as dangerous and harmful, it also had an impact on the children who were less likely to misuse,” she added.
Opioid abuse also impacts academic performance and behavior, so monitoring is key, the authors noted.