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How to Tell if Your Child is Abusing Pills

by | Last updated Oct 2, 2020 at 2:21PM | Published on Jan 15, 2020 | Rehab Programs


Facing the fact that your child may be abusing pills isn’t easy. Still, as the prescription pill epidemic grows, it’s essential to be aware of the warning signs.

Prescription pill overdoses cause thousands of deaths each year. It’s vitally important to be able to detect when a child is abusing pills to prevent this worst-case scenario.

Fortunately, with the right information, parents can prevent and identify prescription pill abuse early. Thus, being educated with the facts is one of the most effective ways to confront drug abuse of any kind.

Oxycodone Prescription Bottle with Pills Spilling Out

Signs That A Child is Abusing Pills

Generally, many young adults don’t become addicted to prescription drugs overnight. Most of the time, they start experimenting with drugs and alcohol like other kids their age. However, the long-term misuse of pills can be the catalyst for the onset of various substance use disorders.

It’s essential to be aware of the most commonly-abused prescriptions and their side effects to recognize whether a child abuses pills. Here are some of the most telling signs that someone is misusing prescription medications.

  • Opioids mimic the effects of heroin and other natural opiates. These include Codeine, Vicodin, Percocet, OxyContin, Roxicodone, morphine, methadone, and Suboxone. Generally, the most common effects include nodding off, small or pinned pupils, excessive scratching, and constipation. And equipment such as pill crushers, tinfoil, empty pill bottles, and syringes are all signs of opioid abuse.
  • Benzos are common medications used in the treatment of anxiety. These pills have a sedating effect, which can also cause disorientation, slurred speech, and trouble walking. Popular benzos include Xanax, Valium, Ativan, and Klonopin.
  • Stimulant pills are a class of drugs that give users energy, alertness, and feelings of confidence. They include Ritalin, Adderall, Concerta, Vyvanse, Dexedrine, and Desoxyn. Signs of stimulant abuse include excessive energy followed by a “crash,” dilated pupils, lack of appetite, and teeth grinding.
  • OTC pills can be purchased legally in pharmacies and supermarkets. This includes DXM capsules, pseudoephedrine, and diet pills. Disorientation, excessive energy, and lack of appetite are all signs of OTC pill abuse.
Prescription drugs overdose

The Dangers of Pill Abuse

Like many of the side effects listed above, pills can cause symptoms that interfere with daily life. For example, opiates can cause drowsiness and slowed breathing, and in large amounts, fatality. Other potential dangers include:

  • Tolerance, dependence, and addiction
  • Organ damage, especially to the kidneys, liver, and heart
  • Diminished motivation and changes in behavior
  • Risk of overdose, especially when combined with alcohol and drugs
  • Mental health issues
Women Sitting on the Sofa

How to Confront Your Child About Their Pills Abuse?

First of all, if you have a partner, start by discussing the situation with them. It’s best if you present a united front and come up with an action plan. Be honest and transparent; your child might accuse you of hypocrisy if they know you or other family members used pills or other substances in the past.

Expect the conversation to be very uncomfortable. It’s very likely for your child to lash back at you from even bringing up the issue of abusing drugs. Hopefully, you can bring evidence to the discussion; they won’t be able to hide their pills misuse. 

Finally, come with a realistic goal for the confrontation. Try to remain calm and avoid fighting. Generally, the idea of confronting your child about their potential pills addiction is to get an insight into their habits. Be clear about the rules going forward and also the consequences of breaking such rules. 

Before you sit down to talk to your child, make sure:

  • The conditions are the right ones
  • Wait until you’re sure your child isn’t under the influence
  • Avoid any interruptions
  • Be patient, calm, and understanding

What to Do if My Child is Using Pills?

If your child is using pills, the first thing to do is find out which medicines they’re using. Your course of action depends on what specific pills your child has access to and is abusing. After all, the effects of opioids and stimulants are very different. Therefore, seeking help for each is different.

After learning what pills your child or loved one is abusing, it’s a good idea to gather more information. Knowing how severe the problem is can help you make the best decision about drug treatment options.

Most importantly, reach out to professionals. Because addiction is a complex issue that can be scary for anyone to manage, professional guidance is key to navigating the tough decisions related to getting help. 

Naloxone injection

What If They Keep Using? How Can I Keep Them Safe?

If your child keeps abusing pills, make sure you’re ready for anything that could happen. To keep them safe and alive, you should come up with a safety plan. If they’re using opioids, get Naloxone (Narcan), which can help reverse an opioid overdose. Also, make sure everyone in the household knows how to administer the drug. 

Keep emphasizing the dangers of abusing pills. Additionally, be sure to highlight the risks of combining drugs with alcohol and other substances, which is very common. If they’re still not ready for treatment, all you can do is highlight the importance of seeking help and making sure they’re as safe as possible. 

Does My Child Need Addiction Treatment?

Many people believe that people only need to seek drug addiction treatment when their addiction has destroyed their life. This isn’t true. You don’t need to wait for your child to “hit rock bottom” to talk to them about treatment. If your child is abusing pills, they should seek help even if they seem fine, healthy, and functional.

Keep bringing up the conversation, the more you can get them to talk about it, the more you can highlight the benefits of addiction treatment. 

Of course, you have to be realistic. Don’t expect your child to “snap out of it” and immediately seeking treatment. The journey from abusing pills to wanting a real change in their life takes time. Please, don’t feel discouraged, it isn’t an easy process, but your child needs you now more than ever. 

Parent looking for drug addiction help

Where Can I Find Help?

Navigating this process alone can be heartbreaking and stressful. If you need emotional support, you should seek help as well. Struggling with a child who’s abusing pills is never a comfortable situation. Consider looking for professional assistance to help you develop a plan to communicate with your child effectively. 

At Lighthouse Recovery Insitute, we offer family therapy and substance abuse treatment programs to help parents navigate the ins and outs of addiction disease. Our addiction specialists are here to answer any questions you might have. The staff is also available to help you develop an intervention plan and to offer your child the professional support they need to leave their addiction behind. 



Molly is Lighthouse Recovery Institute’s Case Manager and Vocational Services. She has a Bachelor’s in International Relations, is a Certified Addiction Counselor, and it’s currently working towards her Master’s in Social Work. Molly’s experience allows her to provide expert knowledge about solution-based methods to help people in recovery maintain long-term sobriety.
Medical Disclaimer:

Lighthouse Recovery Institute aims to improve the quality of life for anyone struggling with substance use or mental health disorder. We provide fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options, and their outcomes. The material we publish is researched, cited, edited, and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide in our posts is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. It should never be used in place of the advice of your physician or another qualified healthcare provider.

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