Opioid use among young people is one of the major factors that contribute to the opioid epidemic in the United States, where more than 100 lives are lost every day because of these dangerous, highly addictive painkillers. A recent study found that almost 700,000 teenagers misused prescription drugs like opioids in the past year, and two-thirds of adults with an opioid disorder said they first used the drug when they were 25 years old or younger.
In many cases, teenagers obtain the drugs from a friend or family member who had a doctor’s prescription. In others, teens acquire the drugs legitimately on their own, usually after they have suffered significant physical injuries – in a car crash or sports accident, for example – and are prescribed opioids to help deal with the pain.
But as they continue to take the drug, their body builds up a tolerance, which can lead to full-blown drug addiction as they take stronger dosages to get the desired effect. Other times, they make the dangerous decision to seek out other, cheaper drugs – such as heroin – when they no longer have access to the opioids they used in the beginning. Teens who misuse opioids often have co-occurring mental health disorders, such as anxiety, depression, and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, which can contribute to their addiction.
The terms opiates and opioids are often used interchangeably, but there is a difference in their meaning. Opiates are natural opioids that are derived from the opium alkaloid compounds found in the poppy plant, including morphine, codeine, opium and heroin. Opioids is a broader term that refers to all forms of opiates – either natural or synthetic – and includes drugs that can be created in a lab, such as fentanyl, hydrocodone, oxycodone and methadone, among others.
An opioid is any substance, either natural, synthetic or partially synthetic, that binds to opioid receptors in the brain and produces opiate-like effects. The chemicals in opioids interact with receptors on nerve cells in the body and brain to reduce the intensity of pain signals and feelings of pain. Fentanyl, which is 100 times more powerful than morphine, is one of the most dangerous opioids; often used by drug dealers to “spike” other drugs opioids are the cause of dramatic increases of overdose nationwide.
Other types of opioids include:
It can sometimes be difficult for parents to recognize whether their son or daughter has an opioid addiction, but you should look for these signals. Your teen may exhibit dramatic mood swings and become more aggressive or disobedient. They may become irritable, make threats or get violent. You may also notice changes in their appearance. They may wear dirty clothes for days at a time, or generally let their personal hygiene slip.
Other signs include:
If you notice signs of opioid addiction in your child, it’s important that you seek help immediately.
A full medical drug detox program may be needed if your teen has an opioid addiction, along with therapy, counseling, and aftercare support. Once your son or daughter has successfully completed detox, their rehab program will likely include cognitive-behavioral therapy, one of the most effective therapies for addiction. It teaches your teen to identify problematic behaviors and replace them with healthier alternatives. They learn coping skills so that they have better outlets when they face triggering situations.
Some other examples of therapies used in rehab for opioid addiction include art and music therapy. Family, group, and one-on-one therapy are also used, along with rational emotive behavioral therapy, which helps by uncovering irrational thoughts and challenging them in a way that allows your teen to change how they view their substance abuse. All of these treatments and therapies are designed to help your teen achieve their goal of a successful and lasting recovery.