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Heroin Addiction in Teens
Heroin addiction has been a serious societal problem for decades, but in recent years heroin addiction has been on the rise, especially in rural areas. Many young lives have been lost due to overdose and crime, and the statistics are frightening for parents, educators, health care professionals, as well as those in the addiction treatment community and law enforcement. The University of Michigan’s “Monitoring the Future” study indicates that even teens in 8th grade are reporting heroin use.
Some treatment professionals and law enforcement officials refer to this disturbing trend of increasing heroin addiction in teens as an epidemic. Given the increases in addiction, drug-related crime, and overdose, a brief overview of the facts about heroin maybe helpful.
- Heroin is classified as a narcotic, meaning it is a pain killer. Medically, it is prescribed in very specific and limited clinical situations. Initially synthesized as an alternative to morphine, it was soon discovered that heroin was just as dangerous due to its addictive potential.
- As a drug of abuse, heroin can be smoked, snorted, or injected. Each of these has specific risks associated with it; injection being extremely dangerous if needles are shared.
- Heroin has many slang or street names, including Horse, Smack, Junk, and “H,” among the more common ones.
- Many teens believe that they cannot develop an addiction to heroin if they do not inject it. Smoking and snorting heroin is common at first, but as tolerance to the drug increases and addiction develops, these routes become inadequate and many teens escalate to injecting.
- Heroin addiction can develop quickly. As tolerance builds, the amount of heroin needed to get high increases, and often reaches a point when addicts no longer get high but use the drug to prevent going into withdrawal. Thus “using to feel normal” is a syndrome that occurs among heroin addicts. The drug is needed to prevent withdrawal.
How Do I Know If My Teen Is Using?
The indications, symptoms, and signs of a heroin addiction include medical symptoms and lifestyle changes. Look for:
- Periods of time when your teens is very relaxed — nodding off at odd times, or appearing to be slightly drunk
- Constricted pupils
- Clammy skin
- Constipation, or a sudden change in bowel habits. While using opiates, constipation is common. When in withdrawal, diarrhea can occur.
- While using, nausea and vomiting are common.
- Constant sniffing, runny nose, or blowing the nose
- Odd lack of attention or care about his or her environment (for example, not dressing appropriately for the weather, or failing to respond normally to heat, pain, or other stimuli)
- Suddenly changing the way he or she dresses (long sleeves to hide needles marks, sunglasses indoors)
- A noticeable change in focus, such as neglecting former friends or losing interest in former hobbies or passions
- Disappearance of valuables — either from the home or the teen’s own items
- Sudden change in attitude towards school, truancy or a drop in grades
- No longer spending time with close friends; apparent disinterest in former friends
- Your teen’s “works” — the paraphernalia used to render the powdered heroin injectable. Look for a spoon with soot or burn marks on it, matches, and needles.
Heroin is a physically addictive substance, which means that if your teen stops using, he or she will enter withdrawal. Withdrawal is a very painful condition, and is best handled with medical supervision. Detox facilities can minimize discomfort and help a teen get through this difficult experience safely.
After completing withdrawal, the physical addiction is over, and your teen should be physically well enough to develop a healthy life in recovery. Such a healthy life will include a full spectrum of relapse prevention activities to ensure that relapse can be kept at bay.