By Marybeth Bock

Chances are you’ve heard there’s an ongoing opioid epidemic currently happening in the United States. What exactly does this mean, and is there the possibility that you as a teenager could be addicted, or might become addicted in the future?

Opioids are a type of medication used to treat pain. They work by decreasing the pain signals your body sends to your brain.  Doctors prescribe them to us for conditions like dental procedures, injuries, surgeries, and even for chronic conditions like a persistent cough. In many cases, a teen’s first experience with an opioid drug is when they have their wisdom teeth removed.

Opioids, including heroin, have become easier to obtain over the past five years, due to doctors overprescribing them and online purchases. In the U.S., drug overdose is now the leading cause of accidental death.

If you’ve ever been prescribed an opioid drug, have taken some given to you by friend, or you’ve just tried someone else’s prescription, there’s a chance you could begin to misuse it. As our brains get used to the pleasurable feeling that an opioid gives us, they begin to change in certain chemical ways, which can make us develop a powerful urge to keep using the drug.

The symptoms of opioid addiction can be both physical and psychological. Common ones are using medication to escape feeling bored, improve your mood, or just to party. You might begin to withdraw from family and friends, experience mood swings, feel agitated, and perform poorly in school.

It’s important to remember that certain people have greater risk factors for becoming addicted to opioid pain medications. Teens are more likely to abuse these drugs if they already have had issues with anxiety, depression, ADHD, self-harm, or have been a victim of any kind of violence or abuse.

If you, or someone close to you suspects you may have become addicted to an opioid, a medical health professional can make a diagnosis. While the thought of this can be scary, it’s important to talk to a school counselor or other trusted adult who can assist you in getting evaluated.

There is a lot of help available for teens who are misusing or have already become addicted to opioids.

The first step to overcoming an addiction is committing to quit and realizing that you can re-gain control of your behavior.

Here are some resources: