Opioids have been gaining attention in recent years as one of the most dangerous types of drugs, for adolescents in particular. Their availability, high chance of addiction and potentially lethal overdoses make opioids a serious problem. And, as rates of opioid abuse have been on the rise across many age groups, healthcare professionals have been working hard to spread awareness about how important it is to keep these drugs away from young people.

According to the 2017 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, opioids are the third most-used mind-altering substance among Americans aged 12 to 17 — trailing alcohol and marijuana by only a few percentage points. But what are these drugs, and where are our youth finding them? Much of the danger stems from the fact that most opioids are prescription drugs, commonly prescribed for pain conditions or after surgery or an injury. Many people supply these drugs by visiting multiple doctors’ offices complaining of severe pain, receiving prescriptions and selling the pills at a profit. These drugs can include common painkillers such as:

  • Oxycodone (OxyContin, Percocet)
  • Hydrocodone (Vicodin)
  • Fentanyl (Demerol)
  • Codeine
  • Methadone
  • Tramadol
  • Buprenorphine 

How Opioid Addiction Works

Opioids also include less common drugs and illegal drugs, such as morphine and heroin. But all opioids are equally dangerous when misused or abused, regardless of whether the drug is a prescription medication or not. If you or your child is given a prescription for a narcotic painkiller, you should be sure to take them as directed and promptly dispose of any unused pills.

Your body actually produces a form of opioids on its own — these natural chemicals are called endogenous opioids, and function in the brain to dull pain, calm the mind and body and produce feelings of pleasure and happiness. Endogenous opioids might be produced as a response to mild pain or as a means of rewarding your body for something good, like the endorphins produced during exercise.

Synthetic opioids use the same pathways in the brain as endogenous opioids and produce similar effects. However, synthetic opioids have a much stronger effect, flooding the brain with a pleasant numbing sensation and a rush of euphoria. If there is no real pain for the opioids to correct, the drugs produce a high rather than balancing out your body’s sensations.

Opioid drugs become dangerous with continued use, as the brain and body grow accustomed to experiencing the heightened levels of pleasure and can no longer achieve happiness with natural, endogenous opioid responses. An opioid addict relies on drugs to feel calm and content in everyday life, and craves the drug to avoid the anxiety and sadness that comes between highs. What’s more, tolerance to opioids builds quickly. If you use these drugs, you’ll need increasingly higher doses to achieve the same effects. This puts users at a very high risk of overdosing — and opioid overdoses can be fatal, as the relaxing effects of the drugs can slow breathing and heart rate to dangerously low levels.

Signs of Opioid Addiction

Opioid abuse may be easy to hide at first, but as it progresses toward addiction there will be increasingly obvious signs that something is wrong. If you are noticing changes in your adolescent’s behavior and you are worried that they might be drug-related, you should seek professional help right away. With the assistance of a doctor or therapist, you can identify the issue at hand and get the right kind of treatment.

If you any of these signs are present, in particular, the problem might be opioid-related:

  • Mood swings
  • General lethargy
  • Drowsiness
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Anxiety
  • Irritability
  • Slowed reaction times
  • Withdrawal from normal activities
  • Loss of enjoyment in hobbies
  • Drug-seeking behavior (e.g., complaining of pain or asking to see different doctors)

Abusing opioids for a long time will change the way that the brain functions naturally. It’s important to get treatment to avoid long-lasting damage; the effects can include poor social functioning, mental health concerns, heightened risk of certain diseases and reduced cognition. The adolescent brain is still in development and is especially susceptible to lifelong problems from serious opioid abuse at a young age. Knowing your child and their behaviors, and being proactive when they seem to be changing for the worse, can be the best way to catch opioid abuse early and ensure that your adolescent gets the help they need.

Treating Opioid Addiction

Opioid addiction can be successfully treated, but it does require a program with the right kind of services and expertise. Opioid withdrawal is notorious for being difficult and potentially dangerous, so choosing a program with medical detox is essential. It’s also vital to find a recovery center that focuses on individualized treatment, because this gives patients the best chance at long-lasting recovery from opioid addiction. Providing treatment that is tailored to each patient means that the solutions offered during recovery are ones that resonate with every individual. Patients are more likely to find ways to stay sober when their coping mechanisms truly work for them and their unique needs.As an adolescent-specific program, Stonewater is also especially aware of the distinct problems faced by this age group and how those concerns may have led to substance abuse. We know how important it is to get young people to fully engage in their recovery process — they need to be able to see and feel that a sober life is possible and fulfilling, and that they don’t need opioids or other drugs or alcohol to live a happy and successful life. We work with every client and their family to find therapies and treatments that make sense for their interests, lifestyles and experiences. With this approach, we are best able to give our clients the new beginning they deserve.

Our treatment programs include a full range of levels of care to help our clients at all stages of recovery:

Reach Out to Stonewater Today

Stonewater Adolescent Recovery Center is located in Oxford, Mississippi, in a beautiful private facility on sprawling green grounds. We welcome adolescents who are local to our area and Mississippi, as well as clients from across the country who are seeking a program with our level of quality and care. If you want to learn more about our options for treating opioid addiction, we encourage you to reach out to us right away and get started toward getting the help that you or your child needs. Call us at 662-598-4214.