Pimples, zits, and the pock marks that result have long been a sort of rite of passage connected with adolescence. Even though only a few get acne severe enough to be painful, most teens have to deal with this condition, to some extent. Thanks to modern medicine, today’s teens have the potential of skipping this embarrassing part of the growing-up process. While social discomfort related to self-image is typically the worst result of acne, the side-effects of popular acne treatments are sometimes much worse and can include depression and psychosis.
The main culprit for terrible side effects is isotretinoin, most popularly dispensed by the name brand Accutane. (Additional trade names include Amnesteem, Claravis or Sotret.) For those suffering from severe recalcitrant nodular acne, this relatively new drug seemed like a godsend when it was first approved by the FDA in 1982. For those acne sufferers whose condition resisted more innocuous treatment methods such as antibiotics, it seemed like a miracle drug. Part of a class of medications referred to as “retinoids,” the drug slows the production of natural substances causing pimples to form.
Anyone looking into the possibility of using Accutane will likely notice the many warnings and cautions regarding life-threatening birth defects.
Because of the high possibility of miscarriage or birth defects, preventive measures, such as two forms of birth control and pregnancy tests at monthly doctor visits, are required for female patients undergoing treatment with isotretinoin. In addition to such precautions, patients are required to register with the iPledge program, which was expressly developed for isotretinoin users.
In addition to issues related to pregnancy, the serious side-effects of Accutane are many. Using exact phrases from the U.S. National Library of Medicine:
- Changes in your thoughts, behavior, or mental health
- Loss of interest in activities you used to enjoy
- Crying spells
- Poor performance at school or work
- Difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep
- Sleeping more than usual
- Changes in appetite or weight
- Withdrawing from friends or family
- Feelings of worthlessness or guilt
- Thinking about killing or hurting yourself
While many of the side-effects may already describe your troubled teen and may actually be increased by the acne itself, these risks are still noteworthy. Again, people taking Accutane must sign informed consent wavers before they’re allowed to receive prescriptions for the medication, and each prescription consists of only a 30-day supply with no refills, forcing you to revisit the doctor each month. While the supposed Accutane-induced suicides allegedly have little-to-no legitimate case, many class-action law suits have been filed against the makers of Accutane for a variety of reasons.
At the end of the day, acne ends up looking pretty harmless compared to its antidote, Accutane. Perhaps counseling your troubled teen about self-image would be a less damaging option. The goal with such counsel is to empower your teen with life skills that will outlast their acne troubles by far, equipping them to cope with much bigger problems in their lives.
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