How Does Opioid Abuse Affect Today’s Teens?

The so-called “opioid epidemic” spans not only across people with different backgrounds but also for those in various age groups. One alarming demographic affected by this drug crisis is US adolescents. What should you know about teen opioid abuse, and how can you get help? Read to know more.

Opioid abuse is an ongoing problem for many people in America. As many doctors continue to prescribe opioid medications with loose considerations about their patients’ susceptibility to addictions, more and more people get hooked to the pleasurable effects of these drugs.

Not to mention, there is also a part of the population that starts with, or eventually, use illicit opioids such as heroin and fentanyl. When these two groups are combined, we see a bigger picture of America’s growing opioid abuse problem.

Adolescents And The Current Epidemic

It is alarming to note that there is a current increase in opioid overdoses. Across 45 states, the number of opioid overdoses jumped at an average of 30% from 2016-2017. Even President Donald Trump considered this drug problem a “public health emergency”, prompting a more serious strategy to battle the crisis.

What about teens and opioids?

The numbers leave much to say about opioid abuse among our adolescent population. Prescription drug misuse, in general, is a growing problem. 2016 statistics showed that 3.6% of younger adolescents ages 12-17 have misused prescription medications, while 7.2% of the older adolescents ages 18-25 are suffering from the same problem. The teens are prone to using “study drugs” which are often stimulants to help improve their focus on exams and projects. Stimulants take the top spot in drug misuse among teens.

However, next to this list of commonly abused substances among teens are prescription opioids. When a teen patient reports pain due to sports injuries, dental surgery, or conditions such as cancer or chronic pain, a doctor will prescribe drugs such as oxycodone, hydrocodone, or morphine. This usual scenario may grow into drug dependence, which often results in an addiction problem for the teen patient.

Even as the prescription timeline is over, they may end up finding ways to support their addiction, such as finding the drug illicitly, with street names such as “Happy Pills”, “Hillbilly Heroin”, “Percs”, “Vikes”, “OC”, or “Oxy”.

Thankfully, the prevalence of adolescent opioid misuse has decreased from 2004-2018 at an average of 6%. This statistic applies to prescription drugs, but heroin abuse paints a different story. According to NIDA, heroin misuse has grown dramatically among older adolescents ages 18-25 since 2007.

Where do adolescents get the opioids?

With these statistics, many parents may worry and start to wonder where are the adolescents to get the opioids. Sadly, 61% of teens report that opioids are easy to retrieve. The majority of adolescents get their prescription drugs from home, either one given to them in a medical facility or those used by family members.

Other sources of opioids are:

  • Friends and communities selling street opioids or smuggled prescriptions
  • Online shops
  • Internet tutorials instructing viewers which chemicals to mix to make opioids

Parents and caregivers should be vigilant about these sources while understanding the risk of opioid abuse.

Risk And Protective Factors For Adolescent Opioid Abuse

How do you know if an adolescent has a risk for opioid addiction? Although genetics play a key role for an addictive personality, there are several risk factors among teens that parents need to keep an eye for:

  • Being prescribed opiate-based pain medications
  • Mental health issues
  • History of addiction in the past
  • History of addiction in the family
  • Abusing other substances, such as alcohol or tobacco
  • Experiencing traumatic or stressful events

If any from this list describes you or a teen you know, it is best to implement the following protective measures:

  • Inform the healthcare provider when you suspect a drug misuse
  • Address mental health concerns professionally
  • Keep other household medications in a secure place
  • Fostering open communication within the home
  • Seeking addiction treatment

Adolescent Treatment for Opioid Abuse

When you suspect or confirm an addiction in yourself or a teen loved one, your best bet to protect their life is to seek professional help. Adolescents are at the stage where they are seeking independence, but as parents, they still need your guidance in making the right decisions. Here are steps you can take to get treatment for adolescent substance use disorder:

Contacting a rehab center

One of the best steps you can do to have a good start is contacting a high-quality rehab center. Sunshine Behavioral Health centers cater to adolescents, as they provide drug detox, treatment, and aftercare services to fit their needs. Contacting a rehab center will also guide you in the right initial steps to send your teen for drug abuse treatment.

Staging an intervention

After initial contact with addiction specialists, you may be required to stage an intervention on behalf of your teen. This can help them realize their need to seek treatment when they see how their addiction affects them and their loved ones.

In other cases, there is an involuntary commitment law that allows parents and guardians to send their teen into rehab even without their child’s consent. In some states, when you and your teen fit the eligibility requirements for involuntary commitment, you will be able to send them to rehab against their will. It is best to read up on your state’s laws regarding this matter as well.

How families and friends can help in adolescent addiction treatment

It takes a community to help someone towards addiction recovery. There are several ways that families and friends can help adolescents suffering from opioid abuse:

  • Come from a place of non-judgment and empathy: Instead of approaching a teen’s drug problem with frustration and disappointment, it is important to listen first and understand their needs. There are many reasons why adolescents fall into substance use disorder, and when they feel that you empathize with them on this matter, the more they will be open to seek treatment.
  • Assist in finding resources for addiction treatment: Teens may feel isolated with their addiction problem, making it difficult for them to find resources on their own. As a family member or a friend, you can help them get the support they need–whether it’s through counseling, rehab resources, or simply being a listening ear with what they have to say.
  • Providing support in rehab and in other settings: There are many ways you can show support for an adolescent suffering from substance use disorder. You can help by putting away environmental triggers from your home. Additionally, you can also talk to supportive people in your community to strategize in keeping your teen addiction-free. These can be teachers, community experts, friends, parents of friends, and other family members to support your teen in their recovery efforts.

An Opioid Addiction Is Strong, But Our Teens Are Stronger

There is a reason why the quote “our youth are the future” remains relevant. Even as adolescents become plagued with substance use disorder problems, the resilience to rise from this crisis stays with them. We must believe in them and be hopeful of the bright future that lies ahead. With our support and love, we can help them overcome any kind of addiction.



Medical disclaimer:

Sunshine Behavioral Health strives to help people who are facing substance abuse, addiction, mental health disorders, or a combination of these conditions. It does this by providing compassionate care and evidence-based content that addresses health, treatment, and recovery.

Licensed medical professionals review material we publish on our site. The material is not a substitute for qualified medical diagnoses, treatment, or advice. It should not be used to replace the suggestions of your personal physician or other health care professionals.

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