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Drug overdoses have become the leading cause of death of Americans under 50, with 2/3’s of those deaths from opioids. Recently, President Trump declared the opioid crisis a public health emergency. So what do you need to know as a parent to keep your child safe? As a parent, you should educate yourself about this crisis and know what to do if your child has a problem with drugs.
What are Opioids
The first thing you can do as a parent is to educate yourself on drugs. Start with the basics. Opioids are a class of drugs that include heroin, synthetic drugs like fentanyl, and legal pain relievers such as oxycodone, hydrocodone, and many others. There are many types and strengths of opioids that are all related to the same poppy plant that produces opium. Here is a more extensive list:
Used appropriately, legal opioids are intended to help manage pain. Used inappropriately, opioids can be deadly. Opiates cause a “high” that produces a sense of well-being and euphoria by meddling with regions of the brain involved in reward. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) estimates that between 26.4 million people around the world abuse opiates. This estimate includes both prescription pain relievers and illegal opiates, such as heroin.
How can you tell if your child is abusing opioids?
Addiction does not discriminate based on age, it can happen at any time to anyone. As a parent, it is very important to be able to recognize the signs of opioid abuse. These are some common signs:
- Small pupils
- Weight loss
- Nodding off
- Track marks
Other behavioral changes can indicate your child is abusing drugs. Some behavioral changes can be easily confused with normal “teenager” behaviors and therefore missed by a parent, such as hostility, depression, and loss of interest. Here are some other common behavior changes:
- Changes in sleeping or eating habits
- Skipping school
- Change in friends
- Poor academic performance
Where do kids get drugs?
Some parents may have the believe that drug abuse only exists in dark corners and sketchy streets. It’s actually quite the opposite. Drugs and addiction do not discriminate. Opiates exist in all communities. In some circumstances, opiates are more accessible than other drugs, even alcohol. Indeed, some kids find the drugs in their parent’s medicine cabinet. Therefore it is important as a parent to be cognizant of the drug abuse symptoms discussed above.
Some people can experiment with drugs, including opioids, and not become addicted. However, that is not true for others. There is a common misconception that people who abuse drugs “choose” this lifestyle. Although, conceivable the first use is a “choice” – the addiction that follows is not a choice. Repeated drug use changes the brain of people with drug addictions in areas that are critical to judgment, decision-making, learning, memory and behavior control. Additionally, the brain changes in ways that creates a powerful urge to keep using the drug.
Why Can’t My Child Just Quit?
Opioid abuse has significant effects on the brain and body. Repeated opioid abuse can change the person so much that the body may not feel “normal” anymore without the drug. Drug addiction is not a moral failing. Addiction is an illness that requires treatment. Furthermore, opiates produce powerful withdrawal symptoms hours after the last dose. Although withdrawal may not necessarily lead to death, it more than likely leads to relapse. Withdrawal symptoms include:
- Opiate cravings
- Muscle cramping
What can you do?
Parents can use information to help protect their children such as keeping an open line of communication and establishing family rules. Being aware of your child’s whereabouts is only half the battle and is not a guaranteed method of ensuring that your child stays away from opioids. If you suspect your child is abusing drugs, intervene early and seek professional help. The American Society of Addiction website has a Find a Physician feature on its home page. Seeking professional help if your child needs treatment is a courageous first step. Helping your child recover from opioid abuse is a long, hard road that requires resilience, patience, and love.
To read more about addiction, check out Understanding The Nature Of Addiction And How To Overcome It.