5 Signs That Your Teen is Abusing Painkillers

Prescription drug misuse is the fastest-growing drug problem in the US – and it’s not limited to adults. Teens can be particularly susceptible to prescription drug use as it might not seem as serious to them as using ‘hard’ drugs like heroin and cocaine. However, prescription drugs carry many of the same risks and can have the same devastating impact on your teen’s life.

If you’re worried that your child could be abusing painkillers like codeine, oxycodone, or hydrocodone, watch out for the signs below.

1. They’re Becoming Moody and Withdrawn

Has your teen started spending way more time in their room than usual? Maybe they’re skipping meals or avoiding days out with the family? While this doesn’t always indicate drug use, it’s a clear sign that something is wrong. It’s important not to jump to conclusions, however. Your teen might have fallen out with a friend at school, got tons of homework to do, or just found a new video game that they can’t stop playing. Not every moody teen is abusing painkillers.

However, when your teen seems to be isolating themselves consistently and their behavior changes dramatically, there is a risk that drugs are involved. Rather than making accusations, keep an eye on your teen’s behavior and watch out for the other warning signs listed below.

2. You’ve Noticed Prescription Medication Going Missing

The biggest indicator that your teen is abusing painkillers is a pretty obvious one: you’ve noticed prescription drugs going missing. Plenty of us have old painkiller bottles lying around from injuries or surgeries, and it’s easy for curious teens to swipe a few pills. If a member of the family is actively using painkillers for a legitimate reason and keeps running out sooner than expected, there’s a good chance someone is taking their pills. Try keeping prescriptions in a locked box, or keeping count of how many you have. You should also keep a close eye on pill bottles belonging to friends or relatives you visit regularly, like grandparents.

If you suspect that your teen is taking your prescriptions, it’s important to keep them locked away at all the times — and raise the issue with your child. Try to be open and understanding, rather than getting angry.

3. Their Grades Are Slipping at School

Abusing drugs makes it harder for teens to concentrate at school, so a sudden drop in grades is a clear warning sign. Even straight-A students are at risk of addiction, so don’t assume that your child is immune. Other signs can include dropping extra-curricular activities that they used to enjoy, like sports, music, or drama. Changes in friendship group are also common when a teen starts abusing drugs. You might notice them spending a lot of time with ‘friends’ you’ve never met before, or becoming secretive about who they’re hanging out with.

4. They Seem to Be Tired All the Time

Regular painkiller use can cause teens to appear slow, tired, or generally unwell. If they’re staying up late to use drugs, you’ll notice that they take longer to get up in the morning, or are often late to school. Opiate painkillers can cause side effects like itching, so you might see your teen rubbing their eyes or scratching their face. When someone uses opiates, their pupils will contract and appear much smaller than usual. This is a clear sign that your teen has used drugs recently. Of course, teens can be tired for more innocent reasons, so don’t jump to conclusions.

5. You’ve Found Straws, Needles or Foil in Their Room

While many teens will swallow painkillers, some will snort, smoke or inject them instead. If your teen is smoking pills, you might find lighters and pieces of burned aluminum foil in their room. If they’re snorting pills, you might find crushing devices, razor blades, and cut straws. If your teen is injecting, paraphernalia including needles, spoons, and cotton filters will be a dead giveaway.

Luckily, there are lots of options for teenagers who are struggling with substance abuse. Programs like Teen Challenge help them to overcome their issues in a positive environment. For teens with serious problems, inpatient rehab can be a good option. There are also plenty of outpatient treatment programs, along with support groups like NA and Smart Recovery.

Photo by Victor Van Welden on Unsplash