Small Talks: Keep the Conversation Going - Beyond Alcohol

We know that small talks have a significant impact on kid's choices about alcohol, so why stop there? These conversations can be equally effective with kids' choices about prescription medications and other drugs. And the reality is, kids have access to prescriptions — and it's leading to misuse. So, it's up to you as a parent to talk openly with your kids about the risks.

When used appropriately, prescription stimulant medications like Ritalin® and Adderall® can be a safe and effective way to treat kids diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. And prescription opioids like Oxycontin® or Vicodin® can help kids relieve pain caused by an injury or other conditions. But all these medications come with risks. And when misused creates higher chances of dependence, slowed brain development, and even heart failure or seizures. Scary, right?

An older person and a younger person sitting by a hay bale

Get the facts

It's easy to think of prescription medications as relatively harmless. After all, they are prescribed by a medical professional. But as the facts show, that's not where many kids who are misusing prescriptions are getting them — and it's leading to some tragic consequences.

Nationally, 1 in 4 teens (23%) report taking a prescription drug not prescribed by a doctor
Almost half of teens (47%) say it's easy to get drugs from a parent's medicine cabinet
In recent years, the rate of prescription painkiller overdoses has increased 260% among Wisconsin's young people


Understanding prescription misuse

What is prescription misuse? Well, it's pretty simple. Prescription misuse is taking medications in a manner or dose other than prescribed by a medical professional.

A person looking out of a window

Why kids misuse prescriptions

There are many reasons why kids may misuse prescription medications. As kids grow, they tend to start experimenting more and may engage in riskier behaviors. Other reasons may include:

  • Seeking psychological or physical pressure.
  • Succumbing to peer pressure because they want to fit in.
  • Helping them study more effectively.

A collection of pill bottles

Common misconceptions kids have

Many kids who misuse prescription medications are misinformed and don't understand the real risks. So it's crucial to separate the misconceptions from the facts. Common misconceptions include:

  • Believing that prescription medications are safer than other drugs.
  • Thinking that prescription medications are less addictive than other drugs.
  • Thinking it's ok to take medications without a prescription from a medical professional.

An older person and a younger person talking in a living room

Recognize the signs

Recognizing the signs of a kid who's misusing prescription medications can be difficult to identify. But some common signs are usually present, including:

  • Fatigue, red or glazed-over eyes, and repeated health complaints.
  • Decreased or obsessive interest in schoolwork.
  • Sudden mood changes like irritability and a negative attitude.
  • Withdrawal from family and friends.
  • Missing prescriptions from the medicine cabinet.
  • Additional filled prescriptions on your pharmacy record that you didn't order.

The DHS Opioids: Youth Usage data dashboard shows the latest statistics on opioid use among Wisconsin youth.




Aren't prescriptions safe because a doctor prescribes them?



No, if not used as prescribed, any medication can be harmful. It is also against the law to use medication in a way other than prescribed. 

What parents and caregivers can do

Kids who continue to learn about the risks of drugs at home are 50% less likely to use drugs than those not taught at home. And that's why having frequent, casual conversations with kids about the risks and consequences of prescription medication misuse is so important. But there's more you can do, including:

Get help now

Wisconsin Addiction Recovery Helpline logo without 211 numberIf you think your child is already drinking or struggling with substance use, don’t blame them or yourself. Focus on getting your family help instead. The Wisconsin Addiction Recovery Helpline can help. It’s free and available 24 hours a day. 



Start talking

Research shows that kids listen when parents and other caring adults talk about important issues like alcohol and other drugs. The key is learning when the conversations should start and how to approach them. It is not as difficult as you may think!


Mother and daughter sitting and talking

Last Revised: November 8, 2021