Opioid Substance Abuse in Teenagers

What Are Opioids?

Opioids are a class of drugs that include heroin, synthetic opioids such as fentanyl, and prescription pain relievers such as oxycodone, hydrocodone, codeine, morphine, and many others. Slang terms you may have heard for these types of drugs include: Oxy, Vike, Black Beauties, Bennies, Lean, and more.

Effects on the Body and Brain

Opioids affect both the spinal cord and the brain to reduce the perceived intensity of pain, as well as the brain areas that control emotion. They can also effect the part of the brain that causes euphoria, or causes an individual to feel “high.”

Opioids also slow down the actions of the body including breathing and heartbeat. Just a single dose of an opioid can cause severe respiratory depression (slowing or stopping breathing) which may lead to death. Taking opioids with alcohol or other “downers” increases this risk.

Dangers of Opioid Use

Opioids are highly addictive – while many have heard of the addictive nature of heroin, it is less well known that more people struggle with addiction to prescription pain pills. Many individuals who use heroin report that they have misused prescription drugs before starting to use heroin.

Opioids can kill you – Drug overdose is the leading cause of accidental death in the Unite States. Between March of 2017 and March of 2018, nearly 67% of these deaths involved opioids.

Signs & Symptoms of Opioid Use

Physical Signs of Opioid Use

  • Constipation, nausea, vomiting, and dry mouth
  • Sleepiness and dizziness
  • Confusion and/or loss of coordination
  • Shallow or slow breathing rate
  • Itching, sweating and shaking

Behavioral Signs of Opioid Use

  • A change in group of friends
  • Carelessness with grooming
  • Decline in academic performance
  • Missing classes or skipping school
  • Loss of interest in activities and abandoning responsibilities
  • Changes in eating or sleeping habits
  • Deteriorating relationships with family and friends
  • Depression, anxiety and irritability
  • Drastic mood swings
Hispanic mother and father with teen

Opioid Addiction

While many people are prescribed opioids out of medical necessity, and use them without becoming addicted, being aware of their danger and addictiveness is important.

Even if someone is prescribed one of these medications— such as hydrocodone, oxycodone, and morphine—misuse of these substances is rampant. If you have questions, talk to loved ones, a doctor, a counselor, a teacher, or another adult you trust.

If someone you know is misusing opioids, encourage them to stop using or to seek help from a professional.

Source: SAMSHA

Opioid Epidemic Skull and bones graphic

Talking to Your Kids

Parents face a tough dilemma about substance use: we may want our children to abstain from alcohol and drug use but what do we do if they are not? Besides the effects of substance use on the developing brain, teens using substances may face very serious consequences.

Learn More

Signs of Teen Drug or Alcohol Use

Figuring out if your child is using drugs or alcohol may pose a challenge. Many of the very early signs and symptoms could just be typical teen or young adult behavior. Many may also be signs of mental health issues, including depression or anxiety.

Learn More

Find Help

Find Additional Resources for Crisis Help, Support Groups and Substance Abuse Treatement.

People holding hands