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Alert: Your Teen’s Heroin Addiction Probably Began with Painkillers

Hoping no one will notice, Steve occasionally swipes some OxyContin from his parents’ medicine cabinet. He figures, if they were prescribed for his dad’s back pain, they must be pretty safe to take. The doctor and the government have approved them, right? What’s the big deal?

Steve is among the many teens who don’t understand the danger they are putting themselves in. They don’t realize how physically addicting these pills can be or how lethal if used the wrong way. Steve continues his occasional use, which turns into frequent use, which leads him to heroin use for a cheaper, quicker high.

Steve’s story is becoming one that’s all too common. A recent study found that 75 percent of high school heroin users began their road to addiction with prescription opioids. The study also revealed that 25 percent of high school seniors who misused painkillers more than 40 times became heroin users.

Frightening statistics, aren’t they?

The Innocence (and Misinformation) of Youth

Like Steve, many teens are not well-informed about painkiller abuse. They even try it once or twice and luckily walk away with some nausea and dizziness as their worse side effects. This gives them a false sense of safety.

Teens sneakers and hangers-on the floorTeens simply don’t understand how easy painkillers are to overdose on – and that an overdose can even happen the very first time. Taken improperly or combined with other substances, they can easily be fatal.

Teens also don’t understand the potential for physical dependence, which is different than psychological addiction. Taken over a period of time, these potent drugs take over the body.

Abusers become physically dependent and suffer severe withdrawal symptoms if the drug is not taken. In an effort to stave off these symptoms, use increases. And once the cost of buying pills becomes a problem – or even the difficulty in finding enough of them – painkiller abuse often shifts to heroin abuse. It’s that frighteningly simple.

What Your Teens Need to Know

As parents, you must educate your teens about the facts of opiate painkillers. Abusing them is a big deal – and your kids need to understand why.

Some of the serious consequences you’ll want to teach your teens should include the following:

  • Effects On the Brain – The brain of a young person is particularly susceptible to addiction and extra vulnerable to damage. A teen’s brain is still developing. Painkiller abuse can damage the ability to learn.
  • Tolerance – As abuse continues, teens will develop a tolerance for painkillers, causing normal safe doses to no longer relieve pain.
  • Other Drug Use – As the study mentioned shows, painkiller abuse often leads to addiction to other drugs.
  • Addiction – Both physical dependence and psychological addiction to painkillers are common and can happen quickly
  • Overdose – Used improperly, it is easy to overdose on painkillers (and happens frequently.) An overdose can result in:
    Difficulty breathing
    Death – 60 percent of all overdose deaths involve prescription drugs

Don’t Give Up

If you suspect your teen is already abusing painkillers, help is available. Talk to them – consider an intervention if need be – and find a treatment program for your teenager before his or her recreational painkiller abuse turns into a full-blown heroin addiction.

Unsure where to start? Take Our Substance Abuse Self-Assessment

Take our free, 5-minute substance abuse self-assessment below if you think you or someone you love might be struggling with substance abuse. This evaluation consists of 11 yes or no questions that are designed to be used as an informational tool to assess the severity and probability of a substance use disorder. The test is free, confidential, and no personal information is needed to receive the result. Please be aware that this evaluation is not a substitute for advice from a medical doctor.