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Adolescent Opiate Addiction

Opiates refer to a group of drugs that are commonly used to treat pain, and remain the most abused drugs in the United States today. While technically the term opiates applies to substances naturally derived from the poppy plant (which contains opium), it is often used interchangeably with both opioids and narcotics. Common “natural” opiates include morphine, codeine, and heroin, and are directly related to the opium plant. Opioids, specifically, are synthetic opiates that are frequently prescribed in the form of Oxycontin or Vicodin. 

young adult opiate rehabWhether in the form of a liquid, capsules, or tablets, opiates work intensely on a user’s body. They act directly on a person’s nervous system to relieve pain, and affect major areas of the brain controlling emotion. Opiates suppress anxiety, and large doses give their user high levels of euphoria. Because of these side effects, opiates are highly addictive. If your son has been prescribed a pain medication for an athletic injury, or even post-wisdom teeth removal, it is extremely important to monitor his usage. Any long-term, repeated use (anywhere from three days to six weeks) can put him at great risk of opiate addiction. Even though the doctor issued them, prescription opiates are some of the most dangerous drugs out there today. Because their effects are so similar to heroin, they have been known to serve as a gateway into heroin abuse.

Opiates can be taken by mouth, or smoked/snorted when crushed. Most addicts, however, prefer an intravenous injection, which produces the quickest, strongest high. Those that use intravenous needles are at great risk for infectious diseases, and even more so at risk for overdose. Each day, nearly 44 people die from a fatal opiate overdose, and even more are hospitalized. Though teens are among the most rampant users today, they often do not understand the dangers of opiate use. 

Regardless if they were prescribed or purchased on the street, many people develop tolerance to opiates quickly. Users will increase their dosage in order to feel the same sensations. As a result, people often overdose because they mistakenly take too much. A high dose of opiates can cause death from cardiac or respiratory arrest.

Warning Signs of Opiate Addiction

Repeated use of opiates can indefinitely result in a dependence—a physical addiction can develop in four weeks, but a psychological dependence can develop in as little as two days. Adolescents, unaware of the risks of these fast-acting drugs, may not notice when this dependence occurs. Parents should watch out for these warning signs of opiate abuse:

Physical Side Effects of Opiate Use:

  • Drowsiness
  • Slowed respiration, difficulty breathing
  • Unconsciousness or coma
  • Nausea or fatigue
  • Constipation

Long-term Physical Symptoms:

  • Gastric problems
  • Blood disorders
  • Respiratory depression
  • Immune system destruction

Psychological Symptoms:

  • Anxiety attacks
  • Fleeting moments of euphoria
  • Psychosis
  • Depression
  • Irritability
  • Lowered motivation

If you believe your teen is abusing opiates, he may also be exhibiting various behavioral symptoms. You may notice that he is taking greater amounts of the drug than originally intended, and has had unsuccessful attempts at decreasing his dosage. You may also notice that he spends most of his time trying to obtain, use, or recover from the drug, and has lost sense of all his other priorities. Oftentimes, opiate users seek out the drug compulsively, and “double up” on doctors and pharmacies. This is often a major indication of an opiate addiction. 

Opiate Addiction Treatment

Opiate addiction takes a great toll on the body, and users experiencing withdrawal need extra attention during treatment. Opiate addicts going “cold turkey” will experience great restlessness, pain throughout their entire bodies, insomnia, vomiting, and repeated hot/cold sweats.  Because the withdrawal symptoms are so rigorous, and the consequences of opiate use are so severe, opiate addiction treatment often calls for a long-term, combined approach to therapy.

There are three essential phases to young adult opiate rehab: detoxification, therapy, and recovery. Detoxification physically withdraws the drug from the user’s body, and often involves a medication such as methadone to make the transition to sobriety more manageable. Therapy with a counselor is needed so that a patient can identify the root cause of his addiction, and further learn how to resist drug cravings again in the future. Therapy allows for a recovering addict to get a grasp on his current situation and learn how to make it better. He can then advance to the recovery stage of treatment, in which he will begin to reintegrate into society. With the support of his peers, professionals, and a safe, sober environment, he can rebuild a life once lost.