Just how much is teenage opiate abuse growing and why is it happening?

teenage opiate abuseCC: Thought Catalogue at Unsplash

While teenage opiate abuse was once confined to those growing up in difficult circumstances, today it is widespread. Between July 2016 and September 2017, opiate abuse increased by 30%. According to the same statistics, around 3.6% of children aged between 12 and 17 admitted to abusing opiates.

For the sake of clarity, it’s worth knowing that some opiates are legal. Although drugs such as heroin make a contribution, prescription medications are problematic too. While Oxycodone certainly has its place in treating pain, it’s dangerous in the wrong hands.

With teenage opiate abuse growing, it’s worth trying to understand why. Whether you’re a parent or a concerned teen, read on.

How bad is teenage opiate abuse in the United States?

Did you know that more than 54 million people over the age of 12 have used opiates for non-medical reasons? From painkillers through to street drugs, each one comes with potentially negative consequences.


Worryingly, teenagers seem to have good intentions when it comes to abusing drugs. Around one in four believe it’s acceptable to use some as study aids. From their perspective, the ability to focus on their education for longer offsets potential medical harms.

Around two-thirds of teenagers who abuse prescription medications say that they got them from family and friends. So, if medical practitioners continue to prescribe inappropriately, it’s unlikely the problem will get any better.

Why are opiates so addictive to teenagers?

While adults are more likely to abuse drugs due to stress, teenagers love to experiment. They have naturally curious minds, which means they crave the unusual experiences that come with taking perception-altering medications. Admittedly, some will take and use them due to the same stressful reasons as adults. It’s just not as common for them to do so.

Some other common reasons for a teenager choosing to abuse drugs include:

  • Their friends are taking them
  • They want to escape from day-to-day life
  • They’re struggling emotionally

At a biological level, teenage opiate abuse becomes prevalent for the same reasons it does amongst adults. Depending on the drug they’re taking, their neurotransmitters will adapt in a way that feeds their reward centers. When they experience a sense of reward and subsequently lose it, they’ll start chasing that same feeling. Soon, this becomes a vicious cycle. As they lack the same self-control and insight as adults, they’re at risk of entering a perpetually dangerous cycle.

What’s the most realistic way to tackle teenage opiate abuse?

For teenagers to combat opiate abuse, they need support and protection from all angles. If you’re a parent and you’re feeling the urge to chastize, now is not the time. Your teenager is less likely to talk to you if they feel as though your first response will be judgment and punishment.

In addition to supporting them through their recovery, seeking counselling, and removing them from the environments that made their addiction grow are both crucial. It’s worth acknowledging that different types of counselling won’t work for everyone, so don’t expect smooth sailing.

Finally, allow them to independently explore support groups. While you may feel the urge to surround them at every step of their journey, denying them independence doesn’t allow them to develop better coping mechanisms for stress.

Right now, seek the help of charities and recovery centers for those who suffer from teenage opiate addiction.

About the Author

Laura McKeever
Laura has been a freelance medical writer for eight years. With a BSc in Medical Sciences and an MSc in Physician Assistant Studies, she complements her passion for medical news with real-life experiences. Laura’s most significant experience included writing for international pharmaceutical brands, including GSK.