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How Opioid Misuse Leads to Teen Addiction

Opioid pills spilled on a counter

Opioids are sometimes called happy pills, vikes, perc, hillbilly heroin, OC, or oxy. They are bad news for teens who develop an addiction to prescription medicine they and their parents thought was safe.

It is no wonder why they are often perceived as safe. Prescription opioids like methadone, oxycodone, and hydrocodone come in a prescription bottle like any other you get at the pharmacy. So, many parents feel fine about giving their teens medicine that the doctor recommended for pain relief. Unfortunately, the results can be nightmarish, and addiction can be insidious.

How This Teen Addiction Works

How opioids work is complex, yet can be simple at first glance. The body already creates chemicals to relieve pain. They are called endorphins, and prescription opioids have a similar chemical makeup to endorphins. Like endorphins, opioids take away pain, and that sensation can is coveted among teens who are going through so much angst as a natural part of growing up.

Opioids can create positive feelings in the limbic system, providing feelings of pleasure and contentment in otherwise discontent teenagers. They can also affect the brain stem and reduce feelings of pain. Although a prescription for a strong opioid drug can provide relief from immense pain, the potential for addiction comes along with any opioid prescription.

It is not just prescriptions that lead to opioid drug addiction. Many teenagers get opioids from often well-meaning friends and family members who offer them the drug to take the edge off or relieve pain. Adolescents may intend to use the drugs for recreation, although they may not be fully informed of all the risks of doing so. In either scenario, using opioids too frequently can get out of control.

Warning Signs of Teen Opioid Addiction 

The warning signs of teen opioid addiction are sometimes hard to spot. For example, isolation is one of the first warning signs, but teenagers are often already prone to isolating themselves from parents as part of growing up.

Other warning signs of teen opioid addiction include sedation and an on and off loss of consciousness. Sometimes a teen may seem overly euphoric and may show signs of confusion beyond normal teen drama. Slowed breathing may also occur.

Overdosing and Expanding Drug Use

Often the addiction does not end with opioids. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, young people who abuse prescription opioids are more likely to use other drugs. Some teens may also switch from taking the prescription versions of opioids to abusing illegal ones.

This can be extremely bad news. After all, the effects of opioids boil down to how teens take them and how much they take. For example, it is safer for teens to take them orally than inject them. If teenagers are injecting opioids, they may be at greater risk because teens feel the effects more intensely and faster.

A frightening fact about opioid addiction is that many teens are dying from opioid overdose. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention calls opioid overdosing an epidemic, and it reveals that over 90 people die in America each day from an opioid overdose. Scientific American reports that clean teenagers are especially susceptible to the power of opioids, and the number of people who die from opioid overdoses has tripled within the past two decades.

Teen addiction that starts with an opioid prescription is a very serious problem in this country, but NPR suggests using cautious optimism regarding a recent decline in teen opioid use. Careful prescription practices can reduce the spread of misuse in teens. With a greater awareness of opioid addiction, health professionals, parents, and others in teens’ lives can better help teens.

Finally, an opioid addiction often starts with the best of intentions. Like other forms of teen addiction, this addiction needs compassionate treatment. Awareness is a powerful tool that parents can use to help prevent addiction in teens. Once teens know better, they may not go down the road to addiction.

For those who are already facing teen addiction, there is hope. Many teens leave addiction in their past every day.  It is important to seek immediate treatment for teens who are facing an opioid addiction. Contact Next Generation Village today to talk confidentially with one of our addiction specialists.

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