Opioid Abuse in Teens

It's on the rise among young people. Here, the executive director of Changing Lives and Staying Sober shares signs to look for and how parents can help their teenagers overcome opioid abuse.

In many of today’s popular songs, popping pills – without serious consequences – has been glorified. But it comes at a cost to today’s youth. In fact, more and more teens are abusing prescription pain medications known as opioids.

As the executive director of Changing Lives and Staying Sober (CLASS) Agency, Dr. Karla Mitchell has seen an increase in opioid abuse among teens in recent years – and she understands how crucial substance abuse prevention education is for families. The CLASS agency, which relies on resources from the Detroit Wayne Mental Health Authority, uses evidence-based models and strategies to increase awareness on marijuana, alcohol and opioid abuse, to name a few.

“It’s very common and socially acceptable,” she says of opioid abuse. “It’s what (youth) see in music videos, it’s what they see adults around them doing.”

And it’s starting as early as age 12.

“Twelve-year-olds seems to be older than 12-year-olds from back in the day,” she says. “They have greater access to information so they are growing up fast.”

Some teens might not realize they even have a problem, but it only takes a couple of times of use for chemicals in their bodies to change and for them to develop an addiction. That’s something Mitchell says parents should address with their children.

Here, Mitchell offers insight on signs to look for and what parents can do if their child is abusing opioids.

Signs of abuse

Mitchell’s 15-year-old daughter, Lauryn, who is the Youth Task Force Leader for the ACTION Coalition, knows drugs are off limits. “I’ve always been taught that drugs are a big no-no, don’t get pressured by your peers. It’s always been a strict no,” Lauryn says.

But, Mitchell says, access to drugs is increasing, and Lauryn has seen that first-hand among her peers.

“A lot of kids get them from other kids. Sometimes they get them from their parents,” Lauryn says. “It’s so easy to access drug dealers now with social media.” Or kids can even take it from their parents’ medicine cabinets.

And when it comes to hiding their drugs, teens might use aerosol cans, books on their bookshelves, game consoles and more. If you’re thinking your teen might be abusing opioids, there are several signs to look for.

“The key indicator is always changes in behavior,” Mitchell says.

Other signs of opioid abuse include:

  • Slurred speech
  • New or different friends
  • Loss of long-term friendships
  • Loss of interest in activities and sports
  • Bloodshot eyes
  • Bloody nose
  • Weight gain or weight loss
  • Trouble with normal daily functions
  • Asking to borrow money more often

Getting help

Kids buy, sell and use on school grounds, Lauryn says. When their parents find out about the drug use, many of them simply punish their children – but that isn’t the right solution.

“Their kids don’t need punishment. They need help. Parents need to give their kids help,” Lauryn says. “The worst thing would be if you would want to seek help and you can’t do it because you don’t feel comfortable.”

If your instincts about your child’s opioid abuse are spot-on, Mitchell says parents must seek treatment for their teen right away.

Treatment options include inpatient or outpatient detox, in addition to intensive outpatient therapy. There are many resources available locally, but oftentimes, families do not know where to turn. Both the CLASS Agency and the Detroit Wayne Mental Health Authority provides assistance to families who are dealing with substance abuse issues.

Those seeking treatment can also contact the Detroit Wayne Mental Health Authority’s 24-hour helpline at 800-241-4949.

Content brought to you by the Detroit Wayne Mental Health Authority. For more information on the CLASS Agency, visit class-agency.org.


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