First of all, opiates provide pain relief. For this reason, they are often given to people recovering from procedures or surgeries. The drugs numb pain and allow the person to resume normal activities while the body heals. Drugs such as these are in many medicine cabinets. And teens may find them appealing. For some teens, the medicine cabinet is the gateway to addiction.
How Addiction Develops
Opiates come from poppy plants. They’ve been used for pain control for decades. When a user takes an opiate, the drug moves through the bloodstream and attaches to opiate receptors. As these receptors are activated, the body’s ability to feel pain is decreased. Pain control, by itself, might appeal to some teens. But most teens begin using opiates because the drugs cause euphoria. After taking an opiate, one may feel happy or elated.
As the body becomes accustomed to opiates, the opiate receptors are less receptive. The user may find higher doses of drugs are needed to achieve the same effect. This is known as drug dependence, and for people who take the drug for pain control, this is normal. It’s just the way the body responds to the drug. There are times, however, when drug dependence becomes an addiction. Teens who are on pain medications for long periods of time, and who continue to take the medications when they are no longer in pain, may be addicted.
Addicted teens might have a tolerance. Therefore, they may find it difficult to achieve a high. They often turn to heroin for relief. Heroin is more powerful than prescription codeine or morphine. Also, it’s easy to get and cheap to buy. Heroin use in teens is always dangerous, even if teens only try it one time. One can overdose the first time one uses. Heroin use among teens is on the rise in the United States. Consequently, opiate use has reached an epidemic level.
Teens using pain medications, or heroin, need help immediately. Addiction to opiates is very dangerous. It’s nearly impossible to combat the addiction without help from medical professionals.
Teen Rehab and Drug Detoxification
The first step in opiate teen rehab program is detoxification. This process might be a bit difficult for some. It’s often more complicated than detoxification processes used for other drugs. Those addicted to alcohol might receive medications to ease withdrawal symptoms.
Traditional opiate programs use a drug called methadone to assist with the detox process.
Methadone also binds to opiate receptors in the body. But it doesn’t cause the same level of a euphoric high that users feel when they take heroin or prescription medications. In a traditional detox program, teens are given a high level of methadone when they enter the program. Then they get smaller doses of methadone until they’re taking no methadone at all. This form of opiate detox is falling out of favor. Many programs combine this detox with maintenance medications.
Some offer a “rapid detox,” in which the addict is put under sedation and flooded with drugs to shut off the opiate receptors. Withdrawal symptoms such as nausea and muscle pain are uncomfortable. Once a person comes out of anesthesia, they’re over the toughest symptoms. Few studies have been performed on the efficacy of this treatment on teens. But there have been reports of adults dying due to rapid detox. It’s not a process parents should take lightly. Instead, you should talk to your doctor or addiction counselor at length to determine the best course for detox.
Teens who have a severe addiction to opiates may need to take a medication for months after they’ve entered treatment. Their bodies have changed dramatically. They cannot function without medications. These medications can keep users from returning to street drugs such as heroin.
Some addicted teens enter a methadone maintenance program. They are given a small amount of the drug several times per week for an extended period of time.
For many years, this was the baseline of treatment in opiate addiction. The idea is controversial. According to the Harvard Family Health Guide, 25 percent of those on a methadone maintenance program stay abstinent. But 50 percent of people cycle on and off the drug. Often, parents resist methadone maintenance programs for this reason. In addition, teens may abuse methadone by injecting the drugs, or saving up doses to get high. Even when used properly, methadone provides a bit of a high. Some parents resist this as well.
Another medication, known as buprenorphine, has proven promising in treating opiate addiction.
This drug is given in tablet form. This allows teens to take the medication while still attending school and living at home. It’s often combined with another medication that renders the drug neutral when injected. Taken properly, buprenorphine provides little euphoric effects. Users can’t crush the buprenorphine as the drug won’t work that way.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics 18th Annual Meeting and Symposium, teens who used buprenorphine combination medications for over two weeks stayed clean for a longer period of time. Both groups, however, did tend to relapse when the buprenorphine medications were stopped.
The Role of Counseling
Teens begin counseling during inpatient treatment. In counseling sessions, teens learn to:
- Identify situations that bring on urges and develop methods to avoid triggers
- Deal with stress and anxiety through exercise, meditation, and positive thinking
- Consider how addiction impacts long-term health
- Verbalize feelings and ask for help when needed
Some teens use opiates to help them mask the signs and symptoms of mental illness. When these teens stop using the drugs, illness can intensify and the teen can face severe challenges. At Newport Academy, we specialize in helping teens who are facing both substance use disorder and mental illness. Our treatment team develops programs that can help teens learn healthy habits for a long, happy life. These sorts of tailored programs are vital for teens with mental illness and addiction. Consequently, patients may not thrive in a treatment program that does not address mental health.
Teens are social animals, and they enjoy learning from one another.
Teens are encouraged to participate in group counseling. Sessions begin when the teen enters an inpatient detoxification program. When one completes the program, he or she is encouraged to enter a group therapy program in the community.
According to a study in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, adolescents who are motivated to change, and who follow rules and guidelines, will benefit from a 12-step program.
Teens who attend on a sporadic basis may not feel the benefit. As any parent can attest, it might be hard to motivate a teen to truly believe in anything. But teens who do believe in the program and attend the meetings as scheduled will feel the most benefit.
The Role of the Family
No matter what they might say, teens are tightly connected to their families. Families should be involved in all stages of care. Family members must participate in counseling sessions for true healing to take hold. The entire family should learn more about the addiction. It is important to know how the behavior is impacting the mental and physical health of the teen. The family learns tips on how to help support the teen through the recovery process and how to be healthier overall.
A counselor can point out these habits and help the family learn new ways of speaking with one another.
Some families may have destructive habits that encourage teen addiction. The teen might have stolen money, broken promises or been unreliable as a result of the addiction. The family may be dysfunctional. This could drive the teen inward. Therefore, the key is to learn healthy habits of communication.
Listen and reach out to help when kids seems conflicted, low, or unhappy. This is a difficult time, full of new and unexpected challenges. Family members can help by staying aware and keeping lines of communication open. You will be grateful that you were deeply involved in the healing process.