Parenting an adolescent can be very challenging as you try to find balance between giving them freedom and keeping them safe. The risk factors for teen poisonings take a more serious tone and the focus shifts from unintentional to intentional. It is not uncommon for teens to purposely use medications or household products to harm themselves.

Teens Have Unique Poisoning Risks


In times of stress, some teens may turn to medications or illicit drugs for relief, while others may use them to attempt self-harm. Stress can come from multiple sources – family, school, extracurricular activities, friends, or work.

Peer Pressure

The biggest stressor in an adolescent’s life comes from negative peer pressure, often from people they know. Make it a point to maintain open dialogue with your adolescent about the dangers of these substances. Encourage good choices, regardless of the actions of others.

Substance Use

Adolescence is a time of exploring boundaries and new experiences, which may include experimentation with drugs (over-the-counter, prescription, or illegal) and alcohol. In addition to well-known things like marijuana or cocaine, new designer drugs are continually making inroads into the illicit drug supply. Parents and teens should be aware that drugs purchased on the street or the internet may not be what they are sold as and may have unintended or unexpected effects that may be seriously harmful or fatal.

Difficulty Understanding 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 do not understand what they are reading. Encourage teens to ask questions if they are unclear as to the proper use of household products and proper usage and dosage of medication.

Workplace Exposures

A job provides a teen with responsibility and financial resources. However, lack of proper training and/or supervision when using workplace chemicals, like potent degreasers, cleaners, or other chemicals can be dangerous. Remind teens to read product labels and follow directions exactly or ask for assistance when using cleaning products and chemicals at work.

Medicine Safety

Misconceptions about drugs are common among adolescents. The most common of these is that prescription medicines are somehow safer or less harmful than illicit drugs. When used incorrectly, however, they may still pose substantial risks. Make sure your teen knows to talk to a licensed medical professional before taking any medicine to ensure it is the right medicine for a given health situation, and that resources are available for people who become addicted to drugs of any kind.


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

Additional Resources