By Christa Banister

Opioid overdoses are becoming so commonplace in the United States that, late this past summer, even People magazine kicked the Kardashians and other celebrity coverage off the front page to address the crisis.

Teen girl with opioid problemWhat was probably most shocking about the cover feature wasn’t just the sheer number of people who’ve accidentally overdosed on opioids — a phenomenon that kills more Americans than car accidents or guns, with an overdose claiming someone’s life every 10 minutes, according to the Centers for Disease Control.1 It was how the epidemic has no respect for age, ethnicity or income bracket.

The people featured weren’t the stereotypical faces or life stories that our society has historically associated with drug addiction. They could have easily been your neighbors, people you see at the grocery store or high school students with promising college and career prospects.

If the rate of recent opioid overdoses wasn’t already staggering enough, it’s also touching the lives of teens more than ever before. A new report revealed that overdose deaths among 15-to-19-year-olds increased by more than 19 percent between 2014 and 2015. To put this in perspective, drug overdose deaths had actually been in decline over the previous seven years, decreasing 26 percent from 2007 to 2014.2

How the Medicine Cabinet Can Kickstart Addiction

Opioid addiction often begins innocently enough, according to a recent study.3 Most American teens who have abused opioids were actually first introduced to them legally by a doctor who may have prescribed a medication like OxyContin or Vicodin for an injury or post-surgery recovery.

But the addictive nature of these drugs can cause significant problems later on, to the point that teens are no longer using them simply to manage pain. Due to the escalating opioid crisis, doctors have become more cognizant of how many pills are being prescribed and limiting unnecessary refills, but parents are also being encouraged to educate themselves — and their children — about drug use as a health issue. This may include reminding teens to stop taking the medication once pain is no longer an issue and to avoid taking more than prescribed.

In one example, a mother in New Mexico pushed for state legislation that required all medical practitioners to complete coursework in addiction and pain management when renewing their licenses  after losing her teenage son to heroin addiction.4

Signs Your Teen May Be Abusing Opioids

Moodiness, chronic sleepiness and behavioral changes can often be dismissed as just part of the whole teenage experience. But it’s important not to overlook those symptoms if they persist because they can be some of the first signs your teen is struggling with a drug-related issue.5

Some other clues that your teen may have an opioid addiction include:

  • Skipping school
  • Hanging out with a different group of friends
  • Not caring about his or her appearance or favorite activities
  • Poor concentration
  • Becoming secretive and deceitful
  • Getting in trouble at school or with the law
  • Being combative with family and friends5

There are several physical manifestations to look for, as well. Prolonged drug abuse can lead to slurring of speech, the inability to feel pain, smaller pupils, random vomiting, skin abrasions, weight loss and symptoms of depression.

How to Help Teens Overcome Addiction

Building a line of communication between you and your teen is crucial. But if your teen is struggling with addiction, it’s worth researching local treatment options.

Just keep in mind that addiction treatment isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution. What may work well for adults may not necessarily be the best course of action for teens. If you live in Georgia and are looking for a safe, nurturing environment tailored specifically to the needs of children and adolescents who are dealing with drug and alcohol addiction, Peachford Hospital can help.


1 Helling, Steve. “Stories of the Victims of America’s Opioid Crisis — and the Fight to Save Lives.” People, August 9, 2017.

2 Mukherjee, Sy. “These Opioids Are Killing an Increasing Number of American Teens.” Fortune, August 16, 2017.

3 Gholipour, Bahar. “Teen Opioid Addiction Often Begins at the Doctor’s Office.” CBS News, March 20, 2017.

4 Benson, Heidi. “For Teenagers, Adult-Sized Opioid Addiction Treatment Doesn’t Fit.” NPR, January 15, 2017.

5 “What to Do If You Have a Problem With Drugs: For Teens and Young Adults.” National Institute on Drug Abuse, January 2016.