Chronically Ill Teens Using Substances More Prone to Skipping Meds

By McCarton Ackerman 09/08/15

Teens are largely unaware of the dangers in abusing substances while skipping beneficial medications.

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A new study out of Boston Children’s Hospital found that chronically ill teenagers who turn to drinking often end up skipping medications that could greatly benefit their health.

Led by Elissa R. Weitzman, ScD, the research team compiled data from a sample of 403 children ages 9 to 18, but 85% of them were of high school age. All had received treatment for at least a year for either type 1 diabetes, asthma and cystic fibrosis, arthritis, or inflammatory bowel disease.

Just under 31% of the participants reported alcohol use, while 17.2% reported marijuana use. A little over a third of high school students with chronic conditions (36.5%) reported alcohol use in the last year, and 37.7% of those reported binge drinking. The average age for this drug and alcohol use was 15.

They found that kids with these conditions who drank were more likely to forget to take their medication than students who drank and did not have these conditions. About 32% of the students with these conditions reported forgetting to take their medications and just over 8.3% reported skipping doses.

Part of this teen drug and alcohol use may have to do with a lack of knowledge about its potential dangers. High school drinkers with these conditions were over eight times as likely to not know that alcohol can interfere with their medications and six times as likely to not know that it could interfere with their lab test results.

"We thought the added and serious near term risks of alcohol use on health and disease activity, coupled with what is often close medical and parental supervision of these youth, would inhibit use," said Weitzman. "For these youth, lack of understanding or ignorance about these issues constitute flagrant risk factors. The good news here is that we can deliver clear factual information to youth about these risks, which has potential for making a difference."

Weitzman’s team is now working with the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism to help validate a clinician screening tool, which will provide a  short series of questions for clinicians to assess risk of substance abuse.

The findings were published in the latest issue of the journal Pediatrics.

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.