Why Surgery Can Be the Gateway to Teen Opioid Addiction

by Polaris Teen Center | Sep 20, 2017 | Resources, Substance Abuse

teen opioid addiction

Naturally, getting any sort of surgery is a complicated process that carries with it a unique risk of further complications. But one common complication that is often overlooked by many individuals in the medical field doesn’t come from the actual surgery itself, rather, it comes from the medications used to treat its after-effects.

Across the United States, opioid addiction has become a rapidly growing problem. In fact, many people argue that our nation is currently undergoing what has been claimed to be an opioid epidemic. One of the things that makes opioid addiction so inherently risky is that it can often be triggered even when following the doctor’s exact orders—taking a prescribed amount each day until treatment has been completed, and then hoping you can stop once the pills have run out.

But unfortunately many people can find themselves unable to stop once they run out. They begin having trouble sleeping, feeling constant pain, and can literally become sick to their stomachs. Their body is actively communicating to their brain that they need to get more opiates, and even if their prescription has expired, this signal is so strong that it can drive them to search for substances elsewhere.

According to a recent study conducted by the University of Michigan, approximately 1 in 20 teenagers who are prescribed opiates will end up with some sort of lasting addiction. Even when these teenagers have not had any history of substance abuse, the proven addictive qualities of opiates can quite frequently be too strong to overcome.

Substance abuse problems that are formed during the teenage years carry with them a unique set of problems. For teenagers, these addictions can be noticeably harder to overcome due to their underdevelopment in rationalizing delayed gratification. Furthermore, because both their brains and their bodies are still actively developing, teenagers who adopt substance abuse problems can experience a wide variety of long-term developmental issues.

All of these very real problems associated with opioid addiction put both doctors and parents of teenagers in a remarkably difficult situation. On one hand, teenagers who are forced to undergo surgery are inevitably going to be experiencing a tremendous amount of pain when they wake up, and opiates are something that can diminish this pain better than seemingly every other option. On the other hand, knowing the risk of substance abuse, no parent nor responsible doctor will be very enthused about the need for a prescription.

Common opiates prescribed after surgery include oxycodone (OxyContin) and hydrocodone (Vicodin). Though in some situations, these prescriptions are simply unavoidable, there are a number of things that parents can do to help mitigate the risk of addiction.

Depending on the condition, personality, and medical needs of your teenager, you may want to consider holding onto the pills themselves and distribute them only when they are asked for. This can create a sort of “checkpoint” between your teenager and their medication that will allow you to make sure they are not taking too much at once.

But if you don’t want to control your child’s access to a medicine they likely need—especially if you are going to be at work or absent for long periods of time—you can also be actively looking out for potential signs of addiction. If your teenager begins experiencing dramatic changes in mood, changes in sleeping patterns, and changes in their normal behavior over time, then they may have developed a problem.

Having a teenager undergo surgery is no easy task for any parent. Having a teenager develop an opiate addiction can be even harder. But with the proper wherewithal and proactive behavior, you can be part of the solution.

If you think your teenager has already developed a substance abuse disorder, it is important to get help immediately. Polaris’ Residential Treatment Centers specialize in adolescent mental health rehabilitation for teens. Our team of certified experts are well-versed in treating co-occurring disorders such as substance and alcohol abuse. Let us help your teen live a happy and fufilled life. To learn more about our program, or to speak to our admissions specialists, contact us here.

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Polaris Teen Center is a residential treatment facility for teens and adolescents suffering from severe mental health disorders. Our highly accredited facility is fully licensed and certified in Trauma Informed Care and is a part of the Behavioral Health Association of Providers (formerly AATA).