Teen painkiller use and addiction is becoming more prevalent. More painkillers are prescribed now than ever before.
Teen Painkiller Addiction
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), painkillers provided to pharmacies, doctors’ offices, and hospitals in 2010 were four times higher than in 1999. While many people may be taking these medications for legitimate reasons, many abuse painkillers. The CDC also reports that 12 million Americans older than 12 reported using painkillers for nonmedical purposes in 2010. Many of these Americans were adolescents.
A study published in the Journal of Addictions Nursing makes the problem of teen painkiller addiction quite clear.
Of the 193 students polled in the study, over 30 percent reported using prescription medications for nonmedical uses. Only 13.6 percent reported marijuana use. Teens may not consider prescription painkiller use to be harmful. They may start taking the drugs out of a sense of exploration and adventure. Before they’re aware of the problem, they could be pulled into a cycle of addiction.
How Painkillers Work
The chemistry behind painkillers is complex. In essence, a painkiller enters the bloodstream and becomes connected with receptors along the spinal cord and in the organs. When these receptors pick up a painkiller, they release a feel-good chemical called dopamine. They reduce the body’s ability to send and receive painkillers. People who abuse prescription medications may be on the hunt for dopamine boosts, rather than relief from pain.
There are many prescription painkillers on the market:
- Vicodin, Lortab and other medications containing hydrocodone
- OxyContin, Percolone and other oxycodone medications
Some teens become addicted to painkillers because they’ve been given a prescription for the medication to deal with pain. The person may find he or she needs to take larger and larger doses to control pain. This is known as painkiller dependence.
Teens who take painkillers for many months to control pain may feel some of the symptoms addicts feel during withdrawal stages. They may have flushed faces, seem sweaty, and have vomiting or diarrhea. Often, these symptoms disappear in a few days and they’re rarely severe if the teen has been taking the drug properly. Parents who are concerned about teens withdrawing should talk to their doctors for extra reassurance.
Teens in a significant amount of pain should be allowed to take the proper medications to ease their symptoms. Addiction fears shouldn’t stand in the way of humane medical care. Parents of teens who are taking prescription painkillers should remain alert and aware of the problem of prescription drug addiction, however, so they can step in if the teen begins to exhibit signs of a problem.
When a person takes painkillers when no pain exists, this is known as addiction. Some teens continue to take painkillers long after their original injuries have healed. Others take painkillers for recreation when they’ve had no pain to begin with.
Teens who are addicted to painkillers might:
- Claim they lost their prescriptions and ask for refills
- Head to various doctors for multiple prescriptions
- Buy painkillers from friends or the Internet
- Spend most of the day thinking about how to get more painkillers
Painkillers are so plentiful. Some addicted teens may be able to get the pills from friends without spending any money or exerting any effort. They may attend parties where friends give them painkillers as party favors. They may have classmates who hand out medications during the school day.
Since doctors write prescriptions for painkillers, many teens don’t think their drug use is a problem. Parents also might think that the drug use is problematic. In fact, some parents express relief that their teens aren’t taking heroin or street drugs. These thoughts may keep teens from getting the help they need to beat addiction. The cost of treatment may also be a factor. According to a news report in Epoch Times, only 40 percent of people who reported painkiller abuse in 2009 got treatment. And most reported that they didn’t get treatment due to expense.
Why Treatment Is Important
Left untreated, a teen’s addiction to painkillers can have dire consequences. As the teen needs higher and higher doses of the medication in order to feel a rush, they may start taking tens of pills at a time. Some teens begin to experiment with combinations of painkillers, hoping to augment the effects and feel a bigger effect. The teen’s body, in return, is going through major changes due to the constant presence of painkillers in the bloodstream. Some teens may become unable to produce dopamine on their own, and they may feel crushing depression only a few hours after taking a hit. Teens may keep high doses of painkillers in their systems at all times to keep this depression from striking.
High doses of painkillers can slow breathing and cause vomiting. This could mean the teen could vomit and choke, or the teen could simply stop breathing altogether. These overdoses are becoming sadly prevalent in the United States. In 2008, about 15,000 people died of prescription overdoses, according to the CDC. It’s much too easy to overdose on painkillers, especially if the addict combines the drugs with alcohol or other medications.
In addition, some teens begin their addiction journey with prescription medications. Over time, they begin to transition to heroin use. Heroin provides the same euphoric feeling as prescription painkillers. But users can inject large doses of the drug at a low cost. Heroin use is particularly dangerous for teens because the drug they buy on the street is rarely pure.
Heroin is often mixed with substances like:
- Baby laxatives
- Other drugs, including sedatives
Teens who buy heroin and inject it may have no idea how strong the drug is until they’re in the throes of an overdose. Teens may also face arrests if caught by police officers with heroin or heroin-related paraphernalia.
It’s best to provide the teen with help for painkiller addiction long before they become hooked on heroin.
Help is available but parents need to reach out on behalf of their addicted teens.
At Newport Academy, we’ve treated many teens who have struggled with painkiller addiction. We know that treatment works. Parents just need to take that first step and sign their kids up for treatment.
In most cases, painkiller addiction therapies for teens begin with detoxification. Here, the teen is given medications that reduce the ability of the body’s receptors to pick up painkillers in the blood. Teens experience withdrawal symptoms, and medical professionals remain on hand to ease these symptoms. At the end of this detoxification process, the teen is ready to move forward with the rest of therapy. It’s important to stress that detoxification alone isn’t enough.
Teens need to learn new coping strategies that can help them deal with cravings and stresses in the real world.
In the second phase of treatment, teens begin to meet with counselors and they learn more about why they take drugs. They may also learn what addiction can do to their bodies over time. This might motivate them to make needed changes. Some teens participate in these counseling sessions with their families so everyone can learn about addiction at the same time. Some teens take part in this phase of treatment in a facility. Others join during the day while they live at home.
In the final phase of treatment, teens begin to transition back into their communities and learn to live a life of sobriety. In most cases, teens continue counseling sessions and talk through their concerns with therapists. Teens might also be encouraged to participate in 12-step programs in their communities. Narcotics Anonymous programs allow the teen to meet other addicts in recovery and learn about the methods needed to stay well for a lifetime.
Recovery for addicts is often fragile, and teens often need a significant amount of support in order to avoid a relapse. According to a study in the Journal of Substance Abuse, teens who have poor coping skills and low self-esteem are at risk for relapse. Parents should do their best to assist these teens and keep the lines of communication wide open. Teens who relapse aren’t weak; the drugs are simply too strong.
Teens who feel they can talk to their parents about their feelings are likely to ask for help when a relapse looms. This allows parents to step in before the teen makes a misstep.
If you or someone you love is dealing with these issues, call us. We are here to help you. Even if Newport Academy isn’t the right fit for your family, we will help you find what is.