Teens, Young Adults and Opiate Addiction: How Does it Start?

It’s a terrible thing, but far too often these days, when a teen or young adult overdoses on an opiate drug, the parents didn’t even know there was a problem. Or maybe they did know there was a problem and they tried repeatedly to handle it but their loved one could never stay sober. Finally, an overdose of heroin or a painkiller or a combination of drugs takes him away from them.

How can this be happening with our young people?

The following is an excellent article on the phenomenon of teenagers getting started on painkillers, especially those in athletic programs.

High School Athletes and Prescription Painkiller Misuse

As the writer discusses, with too much pressure to get back into play before injuries are healed, a young person can learn to rely on painkillers to make the aches go away. On the other hand, doctors are still, by and large, not trained in the best ways to prevent dependence on these drugs. Many doctors still routinely prescribe 30 days of painkillers for a fairly minor injury or dental procedure. Sometimes all a person needs is a few days of pills for an injury.

So back to our young person who got injured on the football field or basketball court. He got given a bottle of pills. Not knowing any better, he kept taking the whole bottle of pills until they were gone then got back on the field. When he stopped taking them, he felt lousy and his earlier injury ached. It can happen that when a person stops taking these pills, the aches he felt before will turn on with a higher volume as he tries to quit taking pills. He may even think he has the flu because he feels sick to his stomach. Actually what is happening is that he is in opiate withdrawal.

So feeling sick, he looks in the medicine chest. If he sees a bottle of pills left over from one of his family member’s injuries, he may take a few, thinking that he is just going to make the pains and sickness go away.

He has no idea that he is quickly on his way to being addicted. Many people his age and older have been down the exact same path with full-blown addiction being the result.

The next thing that may happen is that he may start seeking pills one way or another. Ask his coach, ask his parents to go to the doctor for pain, get them from his grandmother’s bedside, even ask friends for them.

If he’s really unlucky, someone will tell him right here how much cheaper heroin is. With the intellectual and moral fogginess that accompanies the steady abuse of these drugs, he may think this is a good idea. Maybe he can sell a little of the heroin so he can afford his own.

Maybe this person is a track star, or a cheerleader or maybe she rides horses in shows. Or maybe he’s a mountain biker or she’s an ice skater who spends hours practicing every week. These young people are particularly prone to this destructive path because they may be given pain medication for injuries.

At heart, these young people are wonderful, warm, loving, productive people. But this progression of drug use may just steal away all that wonderfulness and leave behind someone that mom and dad don’t even know any more.

You can see how this person never intended to become an addict, never even intended to abuse drugs. It just sort of happened to him (or her). This is why parents must be vigilant every time any medication is given, and young people need to be warned what can happen. Until every doctor is re-educated to give the minimum in medications and to monitor for any signs of addiction and to know what to do if he sees these signs, families and young people themselves will need to supply the vigilance. The medical industry is actually coming around to new practices but it is slow.