Drug dependency and abuse are often thought of as only “adult” issues. It’s hard to imagine that teens and young adults can access enough prescription pain medication to develop an addiction. However, opioids are often among the first, and most commonly abused drugs among adolescents. But why are opioids becoming a huge problem for teenagers?

The National Institute of Health even reported that over-the-counter painkillers are the most commonly abused drug among high school seniors. This is because painkillers like Vicodin and Oxycontin are thought of as “safe.” No one wants to take a random pill that a friend of a friend is offering from who-knows-where, but stealing a few pain pills from the family medicine cabinet feels safer. A doctor has prescribed this medication so it must be safe to use. Unfortunately, it is exactly this kind of behavior that leads to an eventual addiction and dependency. If you are a teen who is suffering from a dependency or know someone who might be, it’s important to know both the signs of addiction and what you can do to help.


Why Opioids Are So Popular Among Teens

The main reason why opioid usage, especially abuse of prescription pain medication like Vicodin and Oxycontin are becoming more prominent in teens and young adults is twofold. First, the fact of the matter is that, while many teens wouldn’t know who to talk to to get alcohol or weed, they know someone who has taken prescription painkillers. The NIH reports that opioid abuse typically occurs among older teens, like high school seniors and juniors. These older teens typically have a bit more money, as well as a wider network of friends with access to opioids. In addition to being easy to obtain, with many teens having been prescribed prescription painkillers to treat a medical condition, prescription painkillers are seen as safer than other opioids like heroin or fentanyl. This dangerous myth of painkillers being safe, as they have been prescribed by a doctor, is a huge factor in the rise of their abuse. 


Common Gateway Drugs

Another factor in the rise of opioid addiction is the common nature of pill-popping culture in high schools and colleges. Many more teens today than ever before have been prescribed some kind of medication, whether it be antidepressants, anti-anxiety medications like Xanax, or ADHD medication like Adderall. The prevalence of prescription medications in most homes can provide a gateway for abuse of these medications. Because teenagers are familiar with one type of medication they feel more inclined to sample different types of medications. Alcohol and marijuana use, the two most prevalent types of controlled substances among teens, can also lead to opioid dependence. A study by the National Institute of Health found that marijuana users are more than twice as likely to abuse opioids. These gateway substances, lull teens into a false sense of security in taking a drug. They think that because they have taken one kind of drug, that using another to get high will be no problem. This dangerous thought process is one of the leading causes of opioid abuse in teens. Opioids are highly addictive, much more so than alcohol or weed, so opening this door can have disastrous results. 


How To Prevent Teen Opioid Usage

The most effective way to prevent teens from abusing prescription painkillers and other opioids is to make sure that any usage is monitored and safe, here are a few suggestions on how to make that possible.


Control Use

If you or someone you know has been prescribed opioids following a medical procedure, it’s best to have a trusted family member dole them out at the prescribed time. Additionally, make sure to dispose of the medication safely after you no longer need it. Leaving it lying around in a drawer or medicine cabinet can lead to it being stolen or abused.


Monitor Behavior 

As a parent, make sure you know what’s going on. If your child’s behavior starts to change, grades start to slip, or priorities shift, this may be a sign of an opioid abuse problem.


Limit Access

In addition to keeping opioids in a safe, secure location, it might be helpful to look for alternative pain management remedies. Doctors often are quick to prescribe highly addictive painkillers when they may not be necessary. Consult your doctor to see if pain can be managed through common, less addictive medications like acetaminophen or Ibuprofen. 



It’s important to make sure that when opioids are prescribed, open and honest communication is also in play. Touch base with your teen and make sure you’re aware of any major stresses, or other scenarios that would potentially cause them to want to get high as a means of escape. Keep track of any new friends, especially if they are accompanied by a shift in behavior. Creating an open, honest, judgment-free environment is the most important factor. Things cannot become a problem if they are discussed without judgment, and the appropriate treatment is sought. 


Knowing When To Seek Help

Addiction can be most easily recognized as a sudden and major shift in priorities. Addictive drugs rewire the brain’s chemistry to make feeding the drug addiction the most important thing. What’s most dangerous about opioid use in teens, is that their brain pathways are not fully developed, so if they continue to reward the addiction pathways, these pathways will become part of their permanent brain structure. Essentially, catching and treating addiction early is of utmost importance with teens, as it can permanently affect them. If you happen to notice a change in priorities, a sudden shift in attention towards a particular friend, or a sudden decline in grades, it might be a sign that they are struggling with addiction. Check with their teachers to see if they are recognizing the same signs, and have an open conversation with your teen. What’s most important is creating a culture of open honesty and healing. Opioid addiction is completely treatable, so if you’re struggling make sure to contact Fritz Clinic to explore your treatment options today.


Contact Fritz Clinic if you need help with an addicted teenager or if you need help regarding opioids in general. Call us or fill out our contact form and we’ll do what we can to get you the information and help you need.