Teenagers can be a challenge for parents on many levels. Parents must balance providing freedom to explore and mature with ensuring the safety and well-being of their teen.

In the teenage years, reasons for poison exposures shift from unintentional to intentional. Teens may use household products and medications to get high or to try to hurt themselves.

We still consider these exposures poisonings because a poison is anything that can harm someone if it is used:

  • in the wrong way
  • by the wrong person
  • in the wrong amount

Many of these poisonings can be prevented if parents understand why they occur and know what signs and symptoms to look for.

Risk Factors:

Risk factors for poisonings in teens include:

  • Inability to Understand Label Directions: Even when using a medicine or a household product for its intended purpose, teens are at risk for poisoning if they don't read the label fully or if the information is confusing. Encourage teens to come to you with questions if they are not clear about the information found on a medicine or product label.
  • Workplace Exposures: A job provides a teen with responsibility and financial resources. However, they may not have proper training or supervision when using potent degreasers, cleaners, or other chemicals at their workplace. Remind teens to read product labels and follow directions exactly when using cleaning products and chemicals at work.
  • Stress: Teens are under stress from multiple sources. Grades, family pressures, and busy social lives can collide to make some situations unbearable for teens. Some may turn to medications or illicit drugs to take the edge off, while others may feel there is no way out other than ending their lives. Be aware of changes in your teen's behavior. Get them the necessary help if they are feeling stressed.
  • Peer Pressure: Trying to fit in with friends puts an enormous amount of pressure on teens. Use of alcohol, inhalants, over-the-counter medicines, prescriptions medicines, or illicit drugs might be seen as a way to fit in with a group of friends. Maintain an open dialogue with your teen about the dangers of using these substances. Encourage them to make good choices, even if others around them are making bad ones.
  • Substance Abuse: The substances that teens abuse vary with time. Drugs come in and out of popularity. Some of these factors are determined by availability, some are determined by ease of access. The most important thing is for parents to look for any change in a teen's personality, school performance, relationship with friends, or interests. Do not view these changes as "normal teen behavior." Keep an open dialogue with your teen and involve their health care provider if needed.
  • Misconceptions About Medicine Safety: Many teens think that over-the-counter medicines are safer than prescriptions medicines, which are safer than illicit drugs. In reality, all are equally dangerous when not used correctly. Talk with your teen about the proper use of over-the-counter and prescription medicine. Make sure they speak with you or a trusted medical professional before taking any medicine to ensure it is the right medicine for a given health situation. Encourage them to follow the directions on medicines exactly and to come to you with questions or concerns.
  • The Internet: There is so much useful information on the internet, but there is also misinformation. Help teens sort through the internet for reputable sources of information. Look at the sites they are looking at. Be aware of the various videos and "challenges" that they are viewing.

The poison center can be a resource for parents in many of these situations. You can call with questions, not just in emergencies.

Additional Resources:

Please explore these additional resources to help prevent poisonings in teens. These resources are provided for informational use only.