Alcohol and Smoking May Be Gateways to Abuse of Pain Meds



One of the remarkable details about the opiate addiction that swept across America recently is that it is made up of mostly teens and young adults. In the past, someone who was addicted to heroin was of an entirely different demographic. But it is middle class Americans between the ages of 16 to 29 that seem to be developing an addiction to prescription pills and heroin.


According to Dr. Lynn Fiellin, a researcher and professor at Yale University, there are about 3.5 million young adults who abuse prescription pain medication and this number is growing. A research study that Yale University researchers performed found that there may be a relationship between drinking, smoking, and abuse of prescription pain medication among teens, and this could be a contributing factor to the younger population becoming addicted to opiates.


According to the study, teens who drink or smoke are two to three times more likely to abuse prescription pain medication later in life. Experts from Yale University took the results of the 2006-2008 U.S. National Survey on Drug Use and Health, which surveyed teens and young adults ranging in age between 18 to 25. By analyzing the data, they found is that 12% of those surveyed reported they currently abuse prescription pain medication. And of that 12%, just above half (57%) abused alcohol as teens, 56% smoked cigarettes, and 34% smoked marijuana.


Furthermore, pain medications make a person feel good – not just physically, but emotionally and psychologically too. Teens who have experienced trauma or emotional distress in their lives might turn to substances as a means to feel better.  One way teens get around the emotional pain is to self-medicate. Self-medication can come in the form of alcohol, drugs, overworking, gambling, sex, and other addictive, risky behaviors. It’s common for adolescents who have experienced difficulty in their lives to disconnect from the feelings and physical sensations that accompanied an unpleasant experience. And if a teen has already developed the habit of self-medication with alcohol and/or marijuana, they might really like the experience of pain medication because of the pleasant feelings it brings.


Sooner or later a teen who is using prescription pain meds to feel better might end up with an addiction to heroin. Because these two forms of drugs (prescription pain medication and heroin) are both opiates, an adolescent who gets hooked on prescription pain pills often resort to heroin because it’s more accessible and often less expensive. Because of a need to feed the addiction, many teens develop an addiction to heroin. As mentioned above, many teens and young adults have developed a problem with opiates (including overdosing and death), which have contributed to the epidemic of this type of addiction around the country.


Another contributing factor in all this is the fact that 33% of teens believe that using prescription drugs not prescribed to them is okay. Sadly, many teens believe that abusing prescription drugs is safer than abusing illicit drugs such as cocaine. However, the abuse of these drugs, particularly by at-risk youth can easily lead to irreparable consequences. Fortunately, there are many efforts to address the epidemic. There are more rehab facilities and greater awareness of addiction in communities that have been affected by it.


If you are experiencing an opiate addiction, talk to an adult you trust. Or call a local mental health provider.