By Patti Richards

No one plans on becoming addicted to opioids, especially teenage athletes with their whole lives and careers in front of them. But when a painful sports injury threatens to sideline an otherwise healthy young person, fighting through the pain is the only way he or she knows to get back in the game. When a doctor prescribes something to help in that fight, parents have no reason not to trust and follow the treatment plan. But for many young athletes, receiving an opioid prescription for sports injuries can be the first step on the road to addiction.

A Painful Problem

Teen on crutches with friendPain management after an injury can be challenging. For a young person dealing with extreme pain after surgery to repair damage or simply to heal from that injury, fear of never playing again can be overwhelming. Because of their effectiveness, physicians prescribe opioids, in an effort to minimize that pain and get young athletes up and playing again.

Although they possess addictive properties, opioids change the way the brain and body perceive pain and allow struggling individuals to begin moving again which can speed up the healing process. Parents want to trust the doctor’s advice and follow the treatment plan prescribed so that their son or daughter will heal properly and quickly. A treatment plan that uses opioids for a short period of time before moving to other forms of pain management can still be safe for some teen athletes.

For families who would rather avoid opioids completely, there are alternatives that can be as effective as prescription pain medications when combined with physical therapy and other holistic options. Finding the right balance that works for your child’s unique situation is the goal.

The Importance of Communication

No matter the illness or injury, communicating with your son or daughter’s doctor about appropriate care is an important part of preventing addiction. For those with a family history of drug or alcohol abuse, using opioids of any kind should simply not be an option. If your child already takes prescription medications for other conditions, such as ADHD or asthma, opioid pain medications may not be appropriate due to potential drug interactions.

In many states, physicians are being encouraged to limit the number of opioid pills dispensed in any one prescription. Rather than automatically prescribing a 30-day supply of Percocet or Vicodin, giving patients only six to eight tablets with no refills helps reduce the risk of developing dependence.1 State-wide patient monitoring systems also help reduce opioid dependence by limiting the number of opioid prescriptions available to the same person over a period of time.

If your child’s doctor feels that opioids are the appropriate choice, ask for a small amount of pills and as well as additional pain management options, such as physical therapy. 2

Recognizing Opioid Addiction

Understanding the addictive nature of opioids is the first step to preventing addiction. Taking steps to secure the medication in your home is an important part of using the drugs responsibly. Keep all opioids in your house in a locked cabinet to ensure addictive medications stay out of the reach of children or other young people visiting your house. Count the number of pills you have at least once each week so you can tell right away if any of the medication is missing. For many teens, the first opioid experience happens because a friend or relative’s medications aren’t secure.3

If your young athlete has an injury and uses opioids to deal with pain, look for the following symptoms of drug dependence:

  • The appearance of withdrawal symptoms when the drug use is stopped
  • Needing more of drug before the next dose is due
  • Needing more of the drug to achieve the same level of pain relief
  • Becoming preoccupied with getting and using the drug
  • Wanting a supply of the drug on hand at all times and becoming agitated when running low
  • Engaging in dangerous behaviors, such as driving, while under the influence of the drug
  • Participating in illegal activities, such as stealing, to get more of the drug
  • Changes in physical appearance
  • Mood swings and other changes in personality
  • Withdrawing from friends and family members as well as activities she used to enjoy4

Any one of these behaviors can signal there is a problem. Call your doctor right away if you suspect a drug dependence problem is developing.

Finding Help for Opioid Addiction

The current opioid crisis in the United States reminds us that no family is immune to substance use disorders. Because many teen athletes are exposed to prescription painkillers at an early age, the risk of developing an addiction is increased if medications aren’t properly controlled.

If you or your son or daughter struggles with opioid use, we are here for you. Our admissions coordinators are available 24 hours a day to answer your questions about available treatment options. There is hope and help for your child.

1 Carino, Jerry. “Painkillers and Teen Athletes: It’s Easy to Get Addicted after an Injury.” Asbury Park Press, Asbury Park Press, 23 Feb. 2018.

2Teen Athletes Tell How Injuries Put Them on Path to Addiction.”, NBCUniversal News Group, 5 Dec. 2016.

3Safeguard Against Medicine Abuse: Securing and Disposing Medications.” Partnership for Drug-Free Kids – Where Families Find Answers, Apr. 2018.

4Drug Addiction (Substance Use Disorder).” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 26 Oct. 2017.