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Teen Heroin Addiction And Treatment Options

Joseph Sitarik, DO

Medically reviewed by

Joseph Sitarik, DO

April 11, 2019

Though teen heroin abuse is on the decline, heroin abuse and addiction is still a problem which affects far too many families across our nation. Selecting a residential inpatient drug rehabilitation program could help your teen find the healing, health, and hope they deserve.

Understanding Teen Heroin Abuse

Heroin is a potent, and highly addictive opiate drug derived from morphine, a substance which is extracted from the opioid poppy. Heroin may either be powdered, or resemble sticky black tar or a coal-like substance (black tar heroin).

Many teens start with prescription painkiller abuse and move on to heroin because it’s cheaper and more widely available. Others may move on to heroin after trying other gateway drugs.

According to the 2016 Monitoring the Future Survey, past-year heroin use within 8th, 10th, and 12th graders is falling, with all age brackets seeing 0.3 percent usage. For these and the other grades in between, the education, resources, support, and healing treatment offers can be life-changing. One of the first steps to getting your teen treatment is to recognize heroin abuse or addiction.

Signs And Symptoms Of Heroin Abuse And Addiction

Heroin addiction is characterized by chronic, compulsive drug use despite knowledge of the physical and mental damage caused by the drug. It’s also distinguished by intense cravings, tolerance, dependence, and withdrawal upon discontinuation of the drug.

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As heroin abuse accelerates into addiction, certain other physical, mental, and behavioral signs can point to a heroin use disorder. If you suspect your teen is using heroin, or addicted to this dangerous drug, learning and recognizing these and other signs of abuse can help you to get them prompt drug addiction treatment.

Heroin abuse and addiction may cause:

  • alternating states of wakefulness and drowsiness (going “on the nod”)
  • nausea, which may lead to vomiting
  • a sense of heaviness in the arms and legs
  • stomach trouble, including constipation
  • uncontrollable itching spells
  • warm, flushed skin

As your teen’s thoughts and actions begin to center on finding and using the drug, their behaviors may deviate from what is routine and normal.

As drug seeking and using intensifies, your child may push you and other loved ones away. You may witness a sudden shift in their social lives; old friends may seem to disappear, while new “friends” may take their place. These individuals are quite often people they use with or purchase the drug from.

Life-long hobbies and interests, sports, extracurricular activities, and academic performance may all suffer. Your child may begin skipping school, an after school job, or other responsibilities in favor of activities revolving around heroin use.

Injection drug use can leave marks and scars on a person’s arms, leading many individuals to wear long sleeves (even in hot weather) in an attempt to cover these signs. Other signs of drug use may include paraphernalia (items used to store, transport, or use heroin). These may include:

  • syringes
  • pipes
  • spoons
  • burnt foil
  • straws or hollowed out pens
  • belts or rubber tubing

As an individual tries to hide signs of their drug use, they may become very secretive, evasive, even going so far as to lie about their activities, peers, or drug use. Your teen may become angry or upset if you try to enter their personal space (such as a bedroom, bathroom, or vehicle) if they have heroin or paraphernalia on site.

Ways Teens Abuse Heroin

Heroin is most well-known as a drug that is injected. When a person takes heroin this way they may inject the drug directly into their vein (intravenously), under the skin (“skin popping”), or into the muscle. Black tar heroin is used most frequently this way, though some users will administer the powdered version as well.

Other modes of use include smoking, sniffing, or snorting it. When this occurs, it is most commonly the powdered form.

Heroin may be mixed with other drugs (polydrug or polysubstance abuse), a practice which increases health risks, including the potential for addiction and overdose. Cocaine is frequently used this way; when injected with heroin it’s termed “speedballing,” and when snorted, “crisscrossing.”

Physical And Mental Dangers Of Teen Heroin Abuse

Heroin is very dangerous. Even one use, whether it be the first time or within chronic use, can lead to overdose. Some signs of overdose include: blue fingernails and lips, delirium, drowsiness, muscle spasms, pinpoint pupils, shallow or stopped breathing, and a weak pulse. If you think your teen is overdosing, contact emergency medical support immediately.

Heroin can destroy your body and brain, leading to an array of adverse health effects and disease, such as:

  • addiction
  • brain damage
  • cardiac problems
  • hormonal problems
  • mental health disorders
  • miscarriage
  • painful withdrawal
  • pneumoniaxy
  • sleeping troubles (insomnia)

When heroin is injected, a new set of risks and dangers accompany drug use, including:

  • abscesses and infections
  • collapsed, infected, and scarred veins
  • damage to your organs
  • HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis B and C
  • infection within the heart’s lining and valves
  • track marks

Heroin forms addiction fast. The physical dependency which accompanies this state can lead to withdrawal, should a person suddenly quit or not be able to find the drug. Some signs of withdrawal include: cold flashes, goose bumps, leg spasms, muscle and bone pain, sleep difficulties, and vomiting and/or diarrhea.

Teen’s brains are not fully developed. For this reason, and due to the presence of peer pressure, they’re more apt to make unsound, unhealthy decisions which could jeopardize their health and life.

Under the influence, a person may be more inclined to have unprotected sex, which could lead to an unintended pregnancy and sexually-transmitted diseases. Some teens may go so far as to trade sex or sexual acts for the drug itself.

When addicted, a person’s thoughts are increasingly ruled by the pursuit of heroin. Paired with the decreased judgement this age inflicts, some teens may seek out or unknowingly try heroin which is laced with other potent drugs. Carfentanil, fentanyl, and gray death have all been found in heroin. Each of these drugs is more potent and deadly than heroin.

Teen Heroin Addiction Treatment

While not every treatment facility offers treatment for individuals of this age bracket, a wide variety do.

Heroin addiction often requires a medically-supervised detoxification, a process which works to reduce or alleviate painful and uncomfortable symptoms of withdrawal, quite commonly by the aid of medications like buprenorphine. We highly suggest that if your teen requires this care, that you seek treatment at a facility which provides this service on site along with rehabilitation.

After the physical addiction is treated, the psychological addiction must be addressed. Treatment works to eliminate any negative thoughts, emotions, and behaviors which preceded or added to an individual’s addiction. Therapy and counseling sessions will teach your teen to build positive mindsets and behaviors in place of these.

Family therapy and support is offered at many facilities, a program we highly suggest, so that you and your loved ones can heal along with your teen, all the while supporting them as they work on their recovery.

The most effective teen-focused treatment programs should also teach your teen life skills so that they can successfully integrate back into their newly sober lives. This support may include training which helps them to better handle peer relationships, academic endeavors, jobs, or circumstances within the home. Choosing an individualized treatment program better ensures that your child or loved one receives the most comprehensive, customized care.

National Institute on Drug Abuse - Monitoring the Future Survey: High School and Youth Trends

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