A Guide to Teen Opioid Addiction

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The national opioid epidemic unfortunately includes thousands of teenagers. Adolescents who fall prey to this addiction are at a high risk of overdose or a life of substance abuse. In 2016, 276,000 people between ages 12 and 17 used pain relievers that included opioids for non-medical reasons. Teenage opioid addiction rates seem to be increasing, and polled seniors in high school have noted the ready availability of opioids as an important factor contributing to their use of these drugs.

Warning Signs

Observing a teenager’s appearance and behavior is an important key to determining whether a substance use disorder is present. Some signs are obvious, but others are more subtle. Signs of an opioid addition can include:

  • Finishing prescription medications quickly
  • Using opioids to enhance mood or escape boredom
  • Changes in sleep patterns
  • Mood swings and agitation
  • Poor academic performance and missing classes
  • Changing friends to spend time with friends who use opioids
  • Getting in trouble at school or with the police
  • Poor job performance
  • Withdrawing from family and friends
  • Ceasing former activities

Challenges That Place Teens at a Higher Risk

Teenagers with particular life challenges may be more likely to abuse opioids. Some of these factors include:

  • Experiencing acute or chronic pain
  • Physical health problems
  • Trauma or PTSD
  • Being a victim of violence or abuse
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Schizophrenia
  • ADHD
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder
  • Self-harm
  • Suicide attempts
  • Low self-esteem
  • Witnessing misuse of drugs

Opioids can bring temporary relief of negative feelings and emotions because they flood the brain with dopamine. The high brought on by drugs can temporarily reduce uncomfortable emotions and mental strife, bringing a means of escape. Unfortunately, the escape is only temporary. What’s more, the user has to take more and more drugs to achieve the same blissful feeling. After the drug wears off, the withdrawals are so intense that the addict needs to get high again just to feel normal.

Teenage Opioid Addiction Risks

People who become addicted to opioids often transition from taking prescription medication to abusing these substances. This can happen after a teenager has a minor injury or has surgery, as opioids are often prescribed to relieve pain. Taking this type of drug for a short time and under the supervision of a physician is generally safe. But opioid use over an extended period of time causes the user to develop a tolerance, which can also lead to a full addiction, overdose, and even death. Once addicted, the addict often makes risky choices to get more drugs. Getting access to prescription opioids such as oxycodone and Percocet can be difficult and expensive, so many addicts turn to heroin as a cheaper substitute. And deaths from overdoses among teenagers are increasing: In 2015, drug overdoses claimed the lives of 4,235 people between the ages of 15 and 24, and more than half of those deaths were caused by opioids.


Teens can get their hands on opioids in a variety of ways. The only legal method is to get a prescription from a doctor, but an addicted teen will often need to resort to buying illicit opioids online or from drug dealers on the street. They may also raid the medicine cabinets of friends and family searching for prescription opioids to feed their addiction.

Avoiding Opioid Misuse

Adults can take several steps to prevent opioid misuse among teenagers. First, always treat pain cautiously. Teenagers are usually introduced to opioids through prescriptions for pain management. Explore alternative pain management techniques, and communicate openly with teens about managing pain so they understand the risks of these medications.

Getting Help

An opioid addiction during the teen years can easily follow a youngster into adulthood. The longer the addiction persists, the more difficult it is to treat and overcome it. Early treatment is crucial for full recovery. Methods of treatment may include a medically assisted detox, inpatient rehab, and/or counseling to address any psychological challenges that contributed to the addiction.


  • Opioid Addiction: Opioid addiction has long-lasting repercussions that can impact the addict physically, emotionally, socially, and economically.
  • What Are Opioids? Prescription opioids are prescribed to relieve pain, and they work by changing the way the brain responds to pain.
  • Methadone for Opioid Addiction: Methadone is a synthetic opioid agonist that helps prevent withdrawal symptoms when an addict quits taking opioids.
  • Opioid Misuse and Addiction: Opioids are narcotics that include strong pain relievers and the illegal drug heroin.
  • Signs of Opioid Abuse: Opioid use disorder involves the inability to stop using the drug and behavior fixated on acquiring more of it.
  • Opioid Addiction Facts and Figures: Opioids produce pleasurable effects in the brain as well as alleviating pain.
  • How Opioid Addiction Occurs: The length of time a person takes opioids has an impact on whether an addiction will occur, although some people may be more likely to develop an addiction than others.
  • Opioid and Heroin Addiction: Opioids are derived from poppy plants, and they relieve acute pain.
  • What Is the U.S. Opioid Epidemic? Increased prescription rates for opioids have been instrumental in the prevalent misuse of both prescription and illicit opioids.
  • Opioids: Understanding the Problem: Addiction to prescription medications has become widespread, and opioids are a large part of that problem.
  • What Is Opioid Addiction? A person who becomes dependent on opioids needs careful treatment to withdraw safely from the drug.
  • Early Life Adversity and Opioid Addiction: People who have experienced early life adversity may have a higher risk of opioid addiction due to the way their brain developed.