Nov 7, 2017, 10:03:19 AM CST Jan 30, 2023, 12:30:55 PM CST

Opioid use in teens

Learn the symptoms of opioid use and how you can help prevent opioid addiction in your home

teenage girl sitting on train looking out the window teenage girl sitting on train looking out the window

If you watch the news at all, you’ve likely heard about the opioid epidemic. According to a new report from the National Safety Council, Americans are more likely to die from an opioid overdose than a vehicle crash. However, many parents may be surprised to learn the rise in opioid use isn’t limited to adults. One study found that the number of young people who were diagnosed in emergency rooms with opioid use disorder or addiction is also on the rise.

What are opioids?

Opioids are prescribed to treat severe pain. A doctor may prescribe opioids for short course of treatment a child is hospitalized for a surgical procedure, a broken bone or a sickle cell crisis. If a child has pain related to a disease like cancer, opioids may be prescribed for a longer period.  

Prescription opioids are highly addictive and are considered safe only when taken exactly as prescribed for a short period of time. Examples of opioids include:

  • OxyContin
  • Vicodin
  • Percocet
  • Percodan
  • Demerol
  • Duragesic (Fentanyl)
  • Methadone

Since opioids produce a feeling of euphoria, teens may use them to help relieve stress or anxiety, to experience what it feels like to use the drug or due to peer pressure.

How to prevent teenage opioid addiction and substance abuse

David Atkinson, M.D., Medical Director of the Teen Recovery Program at Children’s Health℠ says, “For parents, the best thing they can do to make substance use less likely is to communicate to their children clear expectations. When parents say, ‘I don’t want you using drugs,’ that’s more likely to help than to avoid the topic all together.”

When parents deliver this message to kids about drug use it hits home much more effectively than when delivered by an expert who isn’t emotionally connected to the family or situation.

In addition, it’s essential to properly manage any prescriptions you may have for painkillers. Dr. Atkinson says, “Having opioids in the house could be catastrophic. Most of the opioids adolescents are using are taken from the home or from the home of one of their friends.”

As a parent, if you’ve been prescribed an opioid to relieve pain, take it as directed if you are in pain. Then, dispose of the remaining contents after the specific time that the prescription was supposed to last.

Risk factors for opioid addiction

Research shows there are many genes tied to addiction. If there are problems with addiction in your family, there’s a higher probability the addiction gene may be present in one or all of your children.

While we know you can’t change your family’s genetic history, you can positively influence your child’s behavior and attitude towards substance use. In addition to your family’s genetic history, factors that influence substance use disorders include:

  • Availability and easy access to the substance
  • Amount of parental supervision
  • Personal perception of harm

Multiple substance addiction

If your child becomes addicted to one substance the chance of multiple substance addictions is increased. Dr. Atkinson says, “Research has shown us that there’s largely just a single factor that determines risk for all the different substances of abuse. If somebody’s at risk for developing addiction to one substance, they’re really at risk for developing an addiction to all.” In addition to opioids, teens may also use substances such as alcohol, amphetamines, marijuana and others.

Symptoms of opioid use

Many children go through changes in their physical and mental health as they grow, especially during puberty. However, severe mood swings that teeter between euphoria and drowsiness could be a sign of opioid use. Since opioids can be injected, look for bumps or needle marks on the body or behavior to try to cover these marks up. Other physical symptoms associated with opioid use include:

  • Constricted pupils
  • Slowed breathing
  • Nodding off
  • Constipation
  • Constant runny nose
  • Changes in hygiene and sleeping habits

Often, adolescents go into withdrawal if they do not have a steady supply. Opioid withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Diarrhea
  • Irritability
  • Sweating
  • Stomach cramps

We encourage parents to watch for other signs of potential opioid use like money missing from the home or adult prescription painkillers missing.

Opioid addiction treatment

When young adolescents use alcohol and other drugs they may develop problems that require serious medical treatment. Kids who abuse any substance can benefit from treatment.

Adolescent addiction treatment includes inpatient, outpatient and dual diagnosis programs for kids with emotional and substance use problems. Outpatient treatment programs include:

  • Individual counseling
  • Group therapy
  • Behavioral management
  • Medication supported recovery for opioid and alcohol dependency
  • Drug testing
  • Parent guidance and family support

As a parent, it may be difficult to decide which type of treatment might be most beneficial for your child. We encourage you to consult with a child psychiatrist who can help explain options and guide your decision making process.

Americans are more likely to die from an opioid overdose than a vehicle crash. Take steps to prevent teenage opioid addiction & substance abuse in your home.

Learn more

If you believe your child requires treatment for any type of substance use disorder, contact the Teen Recovery Program for more advice.

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