Dangerous and Addictive Substances Are Found in Most Homes

Man is opening medical cabinet at home

Parents sitting down to educate their children on the dangers of drug use may miss the fact that their own homes may abound with dangerous and even deadly abusable substances.

The vast majority of parents want to protect their children from drug-related harm. So they sit their children down and talk to them about alcohol, about drinking and driving, about marijuana and pills. Despite their best efforts, many parents are missing the fact that their own homes abound with substances that can be abused to get high. These substances can also be addictive and many are also deadly.

We’ll take a look at what these substances are and what parents can do to make their homes safer. You might be startled at just how common some of these substances are.


Most households have some alcohol, somewhere. Alcohol usually hangs out in a kitchen cabinet or a recreation room. It’s very seldom locked up but it should be. Even if your own children are 100% trustworthy, they may have friends visit them that are not so trustworthy.

Garage or patio refrigerators often have a supply of beer and other cold alcoholic beverages for convenience. Have you ever driven by a house that had a garage door open about eight inches, possibly so a cat could get in or out? One young man told me that his trip to rehab started by crawling through these gaps to access his neighbor’s stash of alcohol.

Solution: There are some very simple refrigerator locks available online. Store all the household’s alcohol in the refrigerator and install a lock. Or store it in a cabinet and lock it up. There are locks that use keys and ones that use combinations. Of course, the problem with key-operated locks is that you then need to secure the keys. Of course, the best way to avoid alcohol use in the family is to just avoid it all together.

Opioid painkillers

Prescription Painkiller

If anyone’s been injured or had teeth extracted or any kind of surgery, it’s very possible there will be some pills left over when the pain is gone. There’s no question about it: when the person has recovered, these pills should be destroyed or at the very least, locked up securely.

Many homes have half-empty bottles of pills lying around. A teen gets curious, has a headache or a bad day and goes looking. It’s not like young people don’t know that these pills can get them high.

Again, your child might never do this. But what if you have a workman in the home? Or a visitor who asks to use the bathroom, or a houseguest? Anyone you know could have become caught in a dependence on painkillers. Not all doctors have adopted a careful attitude about prescribing or detecting addiction in their patients OR dealing with that addiction when it’s identified. All that person has to do is spend a few undisturbed minutes in your bathroom and they could have their hands on a half dozen pills they think you’ll never miss.

Solution: There are locking medicine cabinets available at any home improvement store. You can also find “medicine lock boxes” online. If you have to take pills with you, look for a “locking pill organizer.”

Yes, it’s so very inconvenient to lock drugs away every moment that they are not in use. But doing so could save someone’s life.

Keep in mind also that an addicted person loses their usual ability to make the correct moral decision when it comes to taking someone’s drugs. When a family member is sick or dying, an addicted person might show up just to get their hands on their drugs. Or they might drop by after the person dies. This is a very grim thought but it happens.

The Environmental Protection Agency provides information on the proper way to dispose of unneeded pills. There are also drug disposal bags on the market.

Anti-anxiety drugs and sleeping pills

These drugs are referred to as “depressants” because they depress the function of the central nervous system. The list of drugs in this category includes benzodiazepines and barbiturates such as these listed here:

  • Xanax (generic name alprazolam)
  • Valium (diazepam)
  • Klonopin (clonazepam)
  • Ativan (lorazepam)
  • Luminal (phenobarbital)
  • Amytal (amobarbital)
  • Nebutal (pentobarbital)
  • Seconal (secobarbital)

Solution: The same as for opioid painkillers. Sleeping pills might be kept in a bedside drawer. Don’t overlook these. They must be kept locked up, despite the inconvenience.

Prescription stimulants

Prescription stimulants have become more popular since the diagnosis of study disorders has become so widespread. These drugs include:

  • Adderall (mix of amphetamines)
  • Ritalin and Concerta (methylphenidate)
  • Focalin (dexmethylphenidate)
  • Dexedrine or Dextrostat (dextroamphetamine)
  • Vyvanse (lisdexamfetamine)

These are popular drugs of abuse and are addictive. In many cases they are misused in the belief that they will enable a student to get higher grades and test scores. They may also be misused as a way to boost one’s energy. The stimulants a student misused at college might offer a way to keep up on a demanding job once school is over.

A person is locking the cabinet

Solution: Keep unused pills locked up. It might also be possible to find a different, non-stimulant solution to study difficulties. If you have a child away at college, you might want to monitor their behavior, especially if they have manifested anxiety about their college performance.

A special note about children and teens on medications: A generation ago, it was not nearly as important to monitor every pill. Now, it is. Many people who have needed help recovering from addiction got started with prescribed medications like Ritalin, Adderall, Concerta, Vyvanse, OxyContin, Vicodin, dextromethorphan and others. Now, no matter how much you trust your teen, it’s vital to hand out pills one at a time and lock up the others. If a young person needs to take medication take it with them, only give them enough to last until they are expected home.

There are plenty of families who simply put the unused pills in the medicine chest when the pain is over. A setback or upset could send the teen looking for those pills as a method of coping. In addition to explaining the dangers to your children, you’re going to have to protect them from easy-to-obtain, popular-to-abuse medications until they become adults.

Cough medicine

Some cough medicines contain dextromethorphan, an ingredient that gets a person high if enough is consumed. Unfortunately, cough medicines containing this drug are very easy to find in every drugstore. In many cases, the name of the cough medicine will be accompanied by a “DM” that indicates the presence of this drug.

Here’s some of the brands you may find in your local drugstore:

  • Alka-Seltzer Plus
  • Mucinex DM
  • Dimetapp DM
  • Robitussin DM
  • Chlorocidin

In most drugstores, these cough medicines are behind the counter or right by the cash register to prevent theft. A teen who’s over 18 will still be able to buy them and hand them off to a younger person.

Solution: Lock up unused cough medicines. Also watch your child’s room, backpack, vehicle and household trash for empty bottles.


Loperamide is an anti-diarrhea medicine that is chemically similar to an opioid. Taken in high doses, it gets a person high but can also trigger an arrhythmia.

You’ll find loperamide in these branded products, among others:

  • Imodium
  • Kaopectate II
  • Maalox Anti-Diarrheal Caplets
  • Pepto Diarrhea Control
  • Also generic anti-diarrheal products (check the label)

Solution: Like with cough medicines, lock up unused product and watch for empty bottles.



This is a very difficult category of abusable substances because inhalants are everywhere. They’re in the garage, backyard shed, kitchen, office, bathroom, children’s bedrooms. A complete list of inhalants is very, very long but here is a sample:

  • Computer duster
  • White board cleaner
  • Markers
  • Spray adhesive
  • Hair spray
  • Nail polish remover
  • Spray deodorant
  • Spray paint
  • Paint thinner
  • Toluene
  • Superglue
  • Paint remover
  • Freon (refrigerant)
  • Spray lubricant (WD 40)
  • Lighter fluid
  • Gasoline
  • Air fresheners
  • Oven cleaner
  • Furniture wax

Solution: How can you eliminate these substances from the home? It’s very difficult. Minimally, there should be a locked cabinet in which most of these items are stored. Other than that, parents must rely on a thorough education of their children on the way abuse of these substances have killed young people, even on their very first use. Inhalants are also addictive. The average age at which a person tries inhalants the first time is 13.

In the same way families baby-proof their homes when children are infants, a home must be proofed against misuse of these substances that are common, harmful, addictive and often, deadly.


Reviewed by Claire Pinelli, ICAADC, CCS, LADC, MCAP, RAS


Karen Hadley

For more than a decade, Karen has been researching and writing about drug trafficking, drug abuse, addiction and recovery. She has also studied and written about policy issues related to drug treatment.