Opiate pain relievers are the most commonly abused prescription drugs, particularly among adolescents. The National Institute on Drug Abuse found that around one in 12 high school seniors used Vicodin for non-medical purposes in 2010, and one in 20 used OxyContin recreationally.
Why Teens Abuse Drugs
Teenagers experiment with drugs for a variety of reasons. Some do it to fit in, while others do it for the pleasure produced by certain psychoactive drugs. Teens who suffer from a mental illness like anxiety or depression may abuse drugs in order to feel better, and teens who enjoy taking risks may do drugs to experience the thrill of doing something forbidden or dangerous.
Prescription Medications: The Drugs of Choice for Teens
The New York State Department of Health reports that in 2008, over 2.1 million teenagers between the ages of 12 and 17 abused a prescription pain reliever for the first time, and it points out that prescription drugs are the substance of choice for adolescents aged 12 and 13. Teens report that prescription painkillers and other prescription medications are easy to obtain, either from their parents’ medicine cabinet, from friends or online.
Around half of all teens and one-third of their parents believe that prescription medications are safer than illegal drugs, since they’re prescribed by a doctor. However, this is not the case. In fact, prescription painkiller abuse is responsible for more emergency room visits than heroin and marijuana combined.
The Dangers of Painkiller Abuse
Opiate abuse is particularly dangerous. Accidental opioid overdose deaths have increased four-fold since 1999. Teenagers often don’t know what kind of pain medication they’re taking or how large the dose is when they abuse pills. For example, a single OxyContin pill may contain as much oxycodone as 16 Percocet pills. Depending on the dose and how it’s taken, just one OxyContin can lead to a fatal overdose very quickly.
Abusing prescription painkillers may also lead to addiction and dependence due to their euphoric effects and the high level of tolerance they produce almost immediately. Addiction is characterized by continuing to abuse a substance despite negative consequences, while dependence occurs due to changes in brain function as a way of compensating for the presence of the drug. Physical dependence is characterized by the onset of withdrawal symptoms when the drug is withheld.
Treating Opiate Abuse and Addiction
Willpower alone is rarely enough to overcome an addiction. Addiction is a complex brain disease that affects thought and behavior, and opiate addiction is particularly difficult to beat without professional help due to the intense cravings and unpleasant withdrawal symptoms associated with dependence.
A high-quality adolescent treatment program that takes a research-based, holistic approach to treatment is the best way to help your teenager overcome chronic prescription painkiller abuse or addiction. Through traditional and alternative therapies administered in group, individual and family settings, teens learn skills and strategies for coping with cravings, triggers and stress, and they learn to identify and replace self-destructive thoughts and behaviors with those that are healthier.
Recovery isn’t easy, but it’s highly possible with the help of a quality treatment program and a high level of family and community support. If your child abuses or is addicted to prescription painkillers, getting professional help and instilling hope for a better future and a higher quality of life without drugs can help improve their chances of successful long-term recovery.
To learn more about prescription painkiller abuse, give us a call at 877-466-0620.