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Over-the-counter psychotropic drugs are increasingly popular among children

In adolescents, the use of non-prescription psychotropic drugs (SPM) is a growing phenomenon at European level. It is mainly girls who take self-prescribed drugs, without proper medical supervision.

Increase ofself esteemimprovement of school performance, slimming and the search for high are among the main reasons that push the youngest to fuel this phenomenon. This trend has also been confirmed in Italy thanks to the ESPAD study who investigated why children take PMS psychotropic drugs, what the greatest risks are and how they can be contained.


For more than 20 years, the Institute of Clinical Physiology – section of epidemiology and health services research – of the National Research Council (CNR) has carried out ESPAD Italy study on risk behaviors in a representative sample of the Italian student population 15 and 19 years old. The data, collected using a self-assessment questionnaire, is intended to observe and monitor the consumption of psychoactive substances. Not only over-the-counter psychiatric drugs, but also alcohol, tobacco, energy drinks, illegal psychoactive substances, and other risky behaviors such as internet use, gambling, and betting.

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Childhood and adolescence


In Italy, data from the ESPAD study showed that 10.5% of boys have used non-prescription psychiatric medication (SMP) in their lifetime, 6.6% in the last year and 4.0% in the last month, mostly girls. From 2007 to 2017, a gradual increase in this type of consumption was observed and a decrease in it from 2018 to 2020. In 2021, due to the pandemic, unfortunately, an increase was again observed for all types consumption of PMS psychotropic drugs, seeing the positive results obtained so far vanish.


Among the reasons most reported by students for the consumption of psychotropic drugs without a medical prescription, stand out:

  • the improvement of school performance regarding the use of drugs for attention (46.8%)
  • the improvement ofphysical aspect compared to consumption of diet drugs (72.5%)
  • the wish of feel better about yourself related to the consumption of sleeping tablets (36.6%)e for the atmosphere (54.6%).

“Let’s not forget the use of psychotropic drugs for the sole purpose of getting high”, recalls Dr. Sabrina Molinaro, researcher at the CNR Institute of Clinical Physiology. “For certain types of drugs such as anxiolytics or barbiturates, the use is specifically aimed at deregulation and moment of escapeoften consumed with alcoholic Where cannabis to increase its effects. In general, it is a shortcut taken to reach one’s goal without too much effort”.


For boys the purchase of drugs this does not seem too complicated: 13.6% of students (10.8% of boys and 16.4% of girls) know of places where it is possible to easily obtain psychiatric drugs without a prescription. Of these, 42.3% said they could obtain a clean houseat 28.2% the Internet and 22.2% On the road. In particular, it’s quite easy to get meds for attention, weight loss, sleep, and mood.

“Even during Covid – continues Sabrina Molinaro – the reasons for consumption have remained more or less unchanged. What has changed is the ease of use of these drugs, which are readily available at home. Indeed, during the years of the pandemic, it was not easy to obtain other illicit substances since it was impossible to go out and the micro-space linked to schools and recreational settings was no longer active. By finding the drugs at home, the children learned to use them even if, without a doubt, the consumption is much higher among boys who in their life have already had a drug. Previous experience psychotropic drugs on medical prescription. In this case, we can talk about self-care with regard to anxiety And to fear that, during the period of confinement, we have all lived in a more important way”.


The reason why the girls I am more exposed the consumption of psychotropic drugs without a prescription is linked, in addition to the desire to lose weight and improve one’s physical appearance, and consequently self-esteem, also to stigma associated with the consumption of many illicit substances. “Girls – explains the researcher – tend to avoid more than their peers a whole series of stigmatizing and contrasting behaviors such as the consumption of cocaine or marijuana, while the use of psychotropic drugs, unfortunately, in families is not so stigmatized. Girls may feel empowered to use drugs that they also see their parents using and that they can easily find at home without exposing themselves to the judgment of others to which men tend to be less sensitive. Moreover, the world of micro-space he is very masculine and it is more difficult for a girl to go out with him, he relies more on friends, without exposing himself personally”.


The risks associated with the consumption of psychotropic drugs without a medical prescription are the same as those associated with the use of all psychoactive substances. We are talking about behavioral risks, iatrogenic disorders, addiction risks: especially benzodiazepines and barbiturates have a high additivity rate and it is very easy for children to become addicted. “These are very powerful drugs that used outside of a treatment route can cause strong opacification”, continues Sabrina Molinaro. “When mixed with alcohol, as often happens, the doping effect is heightened and carries the same risks that come with the use of any other illicit substance. Lately, among young people, the rivotrila benzodiazepine which, especially when taken with alcohol, causes total brain shutdownwhat boys sometimes think they want, want to forget teenage difficulties“.


To limit this risky phenomenon, it is essential to training and information in schools and families, given the associated risks. “Parents must be made aware that these drugs – concludes Dr. Molinaro – can be real drugs, not much different from many other chemicals used by children, for example in disco. These drugs, taken under medical prescription, are curative and can help calm certain ailments, but taken at random, especially with the aim of getting high, they are analogous to many other illicit substances.

L’MDMAcommonly known as Ecstasy, a very famous disco drug, in the past it was used as psychotropic: the border between certain types of psychotropic drugs and illegal psychoactive substances, if used incorrectly, is very thin. Moreover, with the information revolution, children are able to find a lot of information about these drugs, the characteristics and effects of which they know perfectly well. In addition to informing and raising awareness among families, less accessible these drugs, and refrain from showing their children standardizationit could be very useful”.

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