Most parents approach the teenage stage with a sense of dread. First, they remember what their own teen years were like. Second, they recognize that hormones and a growing desperation for independence can transform sweet children into angst-filled young adults. As their kids reach their teen years, parents start to mentally prepare for the tumultuous times that lie ahead: academic challenges, break-ups, peer pressure and more.
However, most parents are not thinking about their teens becoming addicted to heroin. Tragically, a growing number of parents are planning funerals for their teenagers rather than graduation parties, as the number of heroin users in the teenage demographic appears to grow exponentially.
Heroin addiction was once thought of as a problem of the inner city — an issue that the outlying edges of society had to deal with. Today, however, heroin addiction also has become a typical problem in middle-class America, and many parents are wondering how this has happened.
Heroin Addiction in Teens: By the Numbers
While heroin use in teens is on the rise in the United States, it’s important to note that most teens do not start out by using this illicit street drug. In many cases, their addiction begins right at home — right inside their parent’s medicine cabinet. As physicians have prescribed an ever-increasing number of pain medications and opioids to adults, young people have found that abusing these medications leads to a euphoric state that is hard to achieve in any other way.
Opioids have become the cool thing to bring to a party, the hot thing to share with friends at school and the easiest way to become addicted to heroin. Ultimately, teens who become dependent on prescription medications find that it can be difficult or expensive to maintain their addiction. This forces them to turn to heroin, a cheaper drug that is becoming more and more accessible in the hallways and on the playground.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse for Teens, .7 percent of 8th graders and .7 percent of 12th graders reported that they had used heroin at some point during their lifetime. Unlike other recreational drugs, heroin addiction can occur extremely quickly. Heroin addiction is not easily managed, as users become almost entirely dependent on the drug and the high that it provides. Overdose is common, and fatalities are on the rise.
Why Are Teens Becoming Addicted to Heroin?
Many factors have contributed to the rise of heroin addiction in teens, including:
- Economic and social changes throughout the last decade — As the Great Recession began, a lot of adults had to increase their work hours to try to make ends meet for their families. While many parents worked two, three or more jobs to survive, their teenage children were left to themselves, often being entertained and occupied by technological devices that were transforming daily life.
- Increase in mental health disorders amongst teens — The stress of the recession impacted adults, teens and young children alike. More and more teens began reporting that they were experiencing the symptoms of depression and anxiety. These stressful and hard-to-understand conditions led teens to try mind-altering drugs to feel better.
- Increase in the availability of prescription drugs — At the same time, doctors and physicians across the country were handing out prescriptions for pain, anxiety and depression medications as if they were candy on Halloween. Prescription drugs were easy to come by and quite effective.
- A decrease in parental preparedness and understanding — For many parents, the idea of their teens becoming addicted to heroin was unfathomable. They weren’t looking for the signs and symptoms of addiction, and they didn’t realize that heroin use was rising significantly in all parts of society.
What Can Be Done to Curtail This Epidemic?
Fortunately, many parents today are starting to understand the prevalence of this drug in the teenage age group. Recognizing this epidemic is the first step, but the next step is to take action.
The first thing parents need to do is begin having conversations with their teens about prescription drugs, managing pain and treating any emotional distresses that they might feel with empathy and understanding. A teenage athlete may be prescribed opioid pain medication for an injury, which can potentially lead to addiction. Parents need to provide their children with accurate information, valuable resources and support as they monitor any medications that they use.
Parents also need to safely store all prescription medications in the home so that they are not readily accessible.
According to the Department of Health and Human Services, common signs of heroin abuse and addiction include mood swings, dizziness, constipation or diarrhea, dry mouth, and more. Adults who notice these symptoms in teens and young adults need to contact an opioid addiction treatment center, that can effectively detox them medically while providing individual emotional assessment. The Waismann Method® has maintained one of the highest success rates for any opioid detox treatment in history. They also have been the world’s leading provider of Anesthesia Assisted Rapid Detox.
By recognizing the rising prevalence of this powerful, lethal drug, and by knowing the signs and symptoms of opioid addiction, parents can become more active advocates for teens who may need help. Any parent who suspects that their own teen, or one of their teenage child’s peers, may be addicted to heroin should reach out to an addiction recovery specialist to get the help that the child so desperately needs.