How to Recognize if your Teen is Abusing Opiates

With the news media’s focus on our country’s opioid epidemic, you might be wondering what you need to know to keep your teen safe. Today’s blog provides a summary of opioids, warning signs of abuse, and how to prevent your teen from getting addicted.

What are Opiates?

You have probably heard both the term “opioid” and “opiate” in the news. The term “opioid” is usually referring to prescription drugs. The term “opiate” encompasses a huge variety of drugs that are naturally derived from the opium poppy ranging from legal drugs such as prescription painkillers to illegal drugs such as heroin.

Examples of opiates include:

  • Heroin.
  • Morphine.
  • Oxycodone (trade names include: OxyContin and Percocet).
  • Hydrocodone (trade names include: Vicodin and Lortab).
  • Codeine.
  • Fentanyl.

Teen opiate use tends to be focused on prescription opioids, such as Vicodin and OxyContin, as these are the most relatively easy opiates for many teens obtain. Teens are more likely than adults to combine an opiate with alcohol (another depressant), leading to more dangerous effects, such as an increased risk of experiencing severe respiratory depression. In 2016, 33,000 people lost their lives to opioids.

Opioid prescription drugs are chemically closely related to heroin, and their effects, especially when misused, can be very similar. Because heroin may be cheaper to get, people who have become addicted to prescription pain medications sometimes switch to using heroin. Nearly 80% of people addicted to heroin started first with prescription opioids.

Warning Signs that Someone is Abusing Opiates

  • Signs that someone may be abusing an opiate include:
    • Severe mood swings that teeter between euphoria and drowsiness.
    • Drastic changes in sleeping patterns.
    • Confusion or poor concentration.
    • Constricted pupils.
    • Slowed breathing.
    • Intermittent nodding off, or loss of consciousness.
    • Constipation.
    • Constant runny nose.
    • Extra pill bottles turning up in the trash.
    • Social withdrawal/isolation.
    • Change in activities.
    • Lack of personal hygiene.
    • Sudden financial problems.
  • Withdrawal symptoms can mimic flu symptoms and include:
    • Headache.
    • Nausea, vomiting and/or stomach cramps.
    • Irritability.
    • Diarrhea.
    • Sweating.
    • Fatigue.
    • Anxiety.
    • Inability to sleep.


Ways Parents Can Prevent Opiate Use in Teens

  • Talk to your teen. Teens need ongoing education about the dangers of drug abuse. You should debunk the myths many teens have that prescription drug use is safe. According to the Partnership for a Drug-Free America, teens are 50% less likely to use drugs if they learn about the risks of drug use from their parents.
  • If your teen is prescribed opioids for pain, ask your doctor about alternative pain relievers. Many times, a larger dose of Advil can alleviate pain after surgery or dental work without the risk of addiction.
  • Know and be alert for drug abuse warning signs.
  • Teach healthy coping mechanisms. Teens are vulnerable to trying drugs when they are stressed out. Be sensitive to your teen’s stress level and teach your child healthy coping skills, such as those identified in our earlier blog Developing Coping Skills in Teens.
  • Seek professional help for mental health problems. Teens who are struggling with mental health issues, like an anxiety disorder or depression, are more vulnerable to turn to drug abuse to cope. If you suspect your teen has a mental health issue, seek professional help immediately.
  • Role model healthy prescription use. Make it clear that everyone should only take medications prescribed to them and discuss the importance of taking medication according to the prescription label, and then, follow through on your words.
  • Store medicine safely. If anyone in your household is prescribed a medication that is commonly abused, keep it locked up in a cabinet or safe box. This simply removes the temptation that any teen – yours or friends that visit – might feel.
  • Understand when and why teens are bored and provide alternative activities during those times.
  • Be engaged in your children’s lives. Have regular conversations with your teen about their life. Attend their activities. Become more knowledgeable on subjects that interest your teen. Schedule family time to connect.
  • Monitor your teen’s whereabouts and get to know their friends and their friends’ parents.


Final Thoughts…

If you suspect that your teen is abusing opioids or any other drugs, seek professional help immediately. Teens who obtain treatment can make a full recovery and lead successful adult lives.

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