Discussing Opioids with Your Teenager

A brief guide for how to discuss painkillers and their misuse with teens.

minute read

“My Kid Would Never Use Heroin.”

Most parents would probably say this. Indeed, many of us feel this way and, in some cases, parents might be right. What they may not be considering, however, is that their teen could already be using heroin. And parents have overlooked the signs totally.

The thing is that heroin isn’t just heroin these days. Painkillers called opioids have taken over the country: heroin-like prescription drugs that are prescribed for pain. Laboratory made opioids are not always the heroin you find on the streets. But in terms of effects on the brain, it is a similar compound that can wreak havoc on the lives of families. And abuse of opioids, particularly in prescription form, have been on a sharp incline for years.

Teen use of prescription drugs has also been increasing and it is causing a lot of anxiety in experts who recognize an epidemic approaching.

What Is an Opioid?

According to the CDC , an opioid can be several things. It may be heroin that is bought illegally on the street and is injected via needles. It could be provided through an IV, such as from morphine and dilaudid. It may also be given in prescription form, like from hydrocodone pills or fentanyl patches.

This class of drugs work by attaching to receptors in the brain and blocking pain signals. They also give a sense of euphoria and sedation. Most popular opioids that are subject to misuses and diversion include:

  • Buprenorphine
  • Codeine
  • Dilaudid
  • Fentanyl
  • Heroin
  • Hydrocodone
  • Oxycodone
  • Morphine
  • Tramadol

How are Teens Exposed to Painkillers?

SCENARIO 1: Prescribed pain medication for standard medical treatment.

A very common way of developing an addiction to opioid is losing track of your opioid intake when ingesting prescribed medications from your physician. If your teen has a broken bone, some form of surgery, even wisdom tooth removal, a common form of pain management is a prescription to an opioid like Lortab, Vicodin, or Percocet. The likelihood of developing a dependency on these medications varies from patient to patient but it is very important to monitor the intake of these opioids to avoid abuse and addiction.

SCENARIO 2: Social Activities.

Youth these days are well educated when it comes to drugs and alcohol. A benefit of growing up in this day and age is all of the advancements our society has made in understanding drug abuse and addiction. However, we’re still finding the lure to use drugs recreationally unavoidable within certain age groups and social activities. It is highly likely that your teen will be exposed to (and offered) opioids at a social event. So instead of planning for “if you’re offered drugs…” parents should have conversations with their kids about “WHEN you’re offered drugs…”

SCENARIO 3: Depression.

With increasing rates of depression in today’s youth, self medication seems to be a tempting way to escape feelings of sadness. With easy access to parents medicine cabinets, opioids are an easy way for youth to dull depressed feelings, anxiety, and more. It’s imperative that parents monitor their medications and keep them out of reach of curious youth.

Talking To Teens About Opioids

Prescription drug overdoses have increase by five times between 1999 and 2016, according to the CDC. It is more important than ever to speak to teens about the dangers of opioids, 200,000 of which are attributed to prescription misuse.

Here are some things to cover:

  • Just because it is from a doctor doesn’t mean it is safe to use without supervision.
  • Many people become addicted to painkillers during times of legal use due to illness or injury.
  • Mixing opioids or prescription pills with other medications or substances, such as alcohol, can be fatal in even small amounts.
  • Opioid use in younger years can have a lasting impact on brain development, even cause permanent damage or stunt brain growth.
  • If they have a friend abusing opioids in any form, telling someone could literally save their life.

Most important of all, let your teen know that they can talk to you about anything, Show then that you are there for their benefit and to help them, not punish them. If they do have a problem with drug abuse, it is critical that you offer them love, support and help. Punitive measures won’t break an addiction, or stop one from occurring. Professional intervention will.

About the author
Tyler is a freelance writer/journalist, with past experience as the head content writer and outreach coordinator for HelpYourTeenNow. His areas of focus include: parenting, education, social media, addiction, and issues facing teenagers today.
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