A-Z Teen Health Glossary

Teen Opioid Abuse Treatment

Opioid prescription drugs are most commonly prescribed as pain killers, specifically for post-operative care, terminal care, hospice, and some cases of severe chronic pain. In patients, these drugs rarely trigger an addiction, because they’re prescribed with great care in smaller doses, or are only prescribed for a short period of time (often shortly before a patient’s eventual passing). However, when sold or used illegally, it’s very easy to get addicted to these drugs.

If the drugs are taken exactly as prescribed, then they can be effective, and patients can remain safe from addiction. However, virtually any use outside of those prescribed puts a person at serious risk of addiction. Because they’re so potent, certain prescription opioids can quickly cause death by overdose.

What Does Teen Opioid Abuse Look Like?

  • Teen opioid abuse occurs in many different ways, but most commonly abuse occurs when a teen uses their friend’s or relative’s opioid medication for recreational use.
  • Opioids work as pain killers by attaching to brain receptors to diminish perceptions of pain. They also increase the release and prolong the availability of dopamine, leading to a rush of positive, euphoric emotions, quickly triggering a physical reaction in the brain leading to dependence.
  • Opioids are not safe to combine with any other medications, including alcohol, because of the possible respiratory problems that can arise. Depressants like alcohol, sedatives, sleeping pills and anti-anxiety medication are extremely dangerous in combination with opioids, and can quickly cause someone to lose consciousness and die of a lack of oxygen.
  • Teens abusing opioids will often seem ‘out of it’. These drugs can produce a sluggish effect, slowing a person’s breathing in higher dosages.

Signs of Teen Opioid Abuse

Increased sensitivity to pain


Shallow breathing

Small/pinpoint pupils


Lack of energy

What Types of Opioids Are Commonly Abused?

Opioids refer to any chemical derived from, or synthetically designed to mimic opium. Opium is a drug derived from the poppy plant, and it’s through opium that the drugs morphine, hydrocodone, and heroin were discovered. Commonly-abused prescription opioids include a variety of painkillers with different levels of potency, such as:

• Oxycodone
• Hydrocodone
• Diphenoxylate
• Morphine
• Codeine
• Fentanyl
• Propoxyphene
• Hydromorphone
• Meperidine (Demerol)
• Methadone

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Teen Opioid Abuse Treatment | Paradigm Malibu

What Causes Teen Opioid Abuse?

Teen opioid abuse begins with access to prescription opioids. While heroin is more commonly abused and most teens addicted to opioids today start with heroin, illegally distributed, and sold prescription drugs still present a unique nature by way of seeming less harmful than “hard drugs” like cocaine and heroin, sold as white or black powder/tar in dubious containers and plastic bags.

Availability – the greatest factor determining a teen’s risk of getting addicted to a certain drug is its availability. Opioids are not generally available to all teens, but there is still a large amount of prescription opioids being floated around America’s streets. The US is the world’s largest consumer of opioids by far, including prescription drugs and heroin. Teens are most likely to use opioids if they know someone willing to sell them or know someone illegally acquiring and distributing prescription drugs.

Mental state – while opioids are still readily available, they are not the first drug of choice for most teens. However, some teens may be driven to start abusing opioids because of their powerful euphoric high in the face of a severe emotional issue. If they perceive opioids as the only form of happiness they can acquire, they may ignore the risks and consequences involved in taking these powerful drugs due to whatever pain they may be going through. Teens with a history of trauma and clinical depression are more at risk to abuse powerful drugs such as prescription opioids.

Genetics – some people may be more susceptible to an opioid addiction by way of their genetic predisposition to the effects of the drugs. This can be a cause for addiction even among patients legitimately receiving opioid medication to deal with pain.


of 12th graders have recreationally used prescription drugs in the past month


teens reported recreationally using prescription painkillers in 2016. Over 122,000 were addicted.


of teens using prescription opioids mixed them with marijuana; 15% of teens using prescription opioids mixed them with alcohol

How Can I Help My Teen with Opioid Abuse?

Seek professional help – tackling a drug addiction isn’t something you and your teen can do alone. You will need help – especially with a class of drugs as addictive and potent as prescription opioids. These drugs are notorious for capturing millions of Americans in a deadly web and causing tens of thousands of deaths per year. Even with professional help it can be a challenge – but it is doable.

Find recovery resources together – an addiction can rob a teen of the passion for life. They’ll quickly find that nothing matters as much as their addiction does, and that can steal a lifetime away from them. They will need your help to rediscover how beautiful, fulfilling, challenging, and amazing life can be. That means finding ways together to spend time, explore new hobbies, go to recovery groups and speak with long-time recovering addicts, and help them find their way after quitting opioids.

Support your teen – many teens struggling with prescription opioid abuse are using or have been using drugs as a result of mental health issues and traumatic experiences, while others have been diagnosed with mental health issues after going into recovery for addiction. Chances are that your teen is struggling immensely since going sober and starting their recovery journey, and they’re going to need every single bit of help that they can get. Working with other family members and your teen’s friends, you can help them continue on the right path and keep them on the straight-and-narrow when they’re struggling to not use again.

What Types of Teen Opioid Abuse Treatment Are Available?

Teen opioid abuse treatment is similar to the treatment for heroin, and other drugs. Treatment usually occurs in a residential setting, or inpatient setting. However, some people seek outpatient treatment. The most successful teen opioid abuse treatment usually involves a combination of talk therapy and medication.


People with opioid addictions are treated by administering gradually smaller amounts of less potent opioids, in an effort to gradually wean them off of the substances in a safe way. This may be more effective than quitting wholesale, because it reduces the power of the cravings that come into effect afterwards. Opioid withdrawal is not as dangerous as sedative or alcohol withdrawal and is akin to a very powerful flu. However, the cravings after going from heavy use to no use can be unmanageable. Using a professional withdrawal plan, teens can be given a more effective path towards recovery.

The most common medications used for this process include: Methadone and Buprenorphine. Sometimes, Naltrexone will be administered to people to help prevent relapse, after they’ve already stopped using opioids. Naloxone can be used to treat overdoses.

Talk Therapy

Once a teen has finished the withdrawal process, they can begin to work with a therapist to address the mental and behavioral aspects of their drug abuse.

Opioids are addictive substances, making relapse a very real possibility, so it’s important for people to get thorough treatment to help them address what attitudes and behaviors led to their drug abuse. A therapist can help people work through these issues, discover what triggers they need to avoid in the future, establish new habits and behaviors to deal with stress in the future, and create a support system to assure their success in recovery.

Residential Treatment

Residential treatment is the best way to tackle a drug addiction, especially an addiction to potent drugs like prescription opioids. Through residential treatment, teens can be placed in a safe environment under the supervision of medical professionals, psychiatrists, and addiction specialists. Residential treatment gives teens the best chance at a successful recovery.

Teen Opioid Abuse Treatment at Paradigm Malibu

Teen opioid abuse treatment at Paradigm Malibu is approached with a multimodal treatment plan, tackling a teen’s emotional, psychological, and physical needs. Addiction leaves a terrible wound behind, often originating before the addiction, and sometimes caused by the addiction. Treating a teen with an opioid abuse issue means understanding that countless different factors come into play – and identifying which factors played the largest roles.

No Drugs, Several Amenities

At Paradigm Malibu, teens are housed in one of several residential facilities outfitted with several different amenities, and free access to local parks, beaches, and hiking spots. Teens are encouraged to spend time outside, reconnect with nature, and partake in regular group activities and lessons. Through one-on-one therapy sessions and group therapy, teens can work on the effects of their addiction and figure out the best way to tackle the aftermath of their drug use, including potential relapses and stresses.

A Group Approach

Paradigm Malibu treats several teens at a time, with a fully-fledged professional staff dedicated to giving each teen the individual help they need, while also working with the group in its entirety to take advantage of how working in groups can help teens build bonds of trust with others after periods of drug abuse, and continue reconnecting with others and making new friendships outside of a treatment setting.

If you are considering sending your child here, there is no need to hesitate. It brings me to tears when I think about the person I was and the person I am today. I thank paradigm for everything they did for me.

– Juliet D.

Frequently Asked Questions About Teen Opioid Abuse

Why is there an opioid crisis in the US?

The US has long been the #1 consumer of opioids in the world, due to the over prescription of opioid medication in the 80s and 90s. This began when the issue of pain management in the US was met with the suggestion to increase the prescription of painkillers as a way to help patients currently dealing with a staggering amount of chronic pain. Other developed nations don’t consume as many painkillers, but still face issues with pain management.

Since the opioid crisis has begun, the US has implemented much more stringent regulations regarding the use and prescription of opioid drugs, and prescription opioid abuse has declined (although heroin use is a prevalent issue today). There are other facets to the discussion, and no easy solution. Drugs are coming in from overseas and being produced locally, and over 47,600 Americans died from opioid overdoses in 2017 alone – a staggering 67.8% of all drug overdoses. These numbers are only rivaled by alcohol and tobacco-related deaths, which include deaths caused by drinking and smoking-related diseases such as alcohol-related heart disease and tobacco-related lung cancer.

What are the effects of opioid on a teen’s body and brain?

Opioid misuse can lead to extreme sleepiness, sleep disorders, muscle pain, infections in the heart and lung, respiratory problems, brain damage, cognitive difficulties, and death by overdose or organ failure. Teens are more susceptible to opioid abuse due to how teen brains work – they’re more likely to get addicted to a drug the younger they’re exposed to it.

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