Young people, rich, coming from high income households, smiling in pictures on Instagram and Facebook, often seemingly happy. This is a semblance – they have depression and they can’t cope with everyday life. In fact, they are more and more often becoming addicted to marijuana, heroin, amphetamine, MDMA and LSD, and are abusing drugs such as tramadol, codeine or Xanax. Specialists speak of an epidemic of opioids among teenagers.
Parents, be careful.
The latest research on drug addiction among teens and its dramatic examples.
This is backed by stories of the 17-year-old Dan from British Surrey and the 15-year-old Melissa from American Baltimore, statistical data and doctors. Parents, watch out for your teenage child.
“Dan lives with his parents in a beautiful four-bed detached house in Surrey, the type with polished granite kitchen surfaces, ankle-deep cream carpets and a “family room”. He’s 17, into street wear, especially Nike and Supreme, and spends his weekends going to raves, messing around with graphic design software or catching up on coursework in his bedroom,” writes Vice and stresses that Dan doesn’t fit the junkie profile. Yet he was one nonetheless. He regularly abused Xanax.
“For me, it’s easier to get Xanax than it is to get alcohol,” Dan explains in the interview with Vice. “If I order alcohol off Amazon or whatever, I’ll have to sign on delivery. Xanax, you can get next-day delivery and have it in your post box waiting for you,” says the 17-year old. Xanax is cheap too: anywhere between 30p to £3 a bar, depending on where Dan was buying it, whether it was from dark web marketplaces or the dealers at his sixth-form college.
“At college, your brain’s gotta be buzzing. It’s a difficult balance for a lot of people, especially people with mental health issues. We feel like we can’t meet that expectation of constant focus,” says Dan. The boy also had problems with marijuana and took heroin. Why?
Predictably, social media are central to this. “It’s easy to portray the image of yourself as being all sex and drugs on Snapchat, but you’ve gotta go out and replicate that off social media,” Dan continues. “It’s a lot easier to speak online to someone. Offline, that’s when you’re like, ‘I’m not meeting these expectations.’ Your self-esteem goes down and you become more anxious,” the teen concludes in Vice.
The problem also affected an American teen – Melissa Ellis.
Melissa grew up in Baltimore, USA, in what she described as an addiction-prone family. She loved Xanax from the first time she tried it. “I noticed this new guy I was dating kept nodding off so I asked him what he was taking. He told me it was Xanax and gave me a handful of bars [the pill form with the highest dose]. I’d never heard of it before. But as soon as I tried it, I knew it was for me,” says Ellis in an interview with The Huffington Post.
“It takes away everything you have in your mind that’s bothering you and everything you feel that hurts, and before you know it, those feelings are just gone,” explains Melissa, who started taking drugs at the age of 15 when she went to high school. Now she’s 24 and struggling to take care of her 3-year-old son. She says she’s determined to beat her addiction to Xanax and stay free of all drugs except the depression medicine that she’s been taking for more than a decade. Otherwise, she could lose her son.
The teen also took heroin. “The two drugs are a great combination. What one doesn’t have, the other one does,” she claims.
Melissa became addicted and almost died. One day after she started combining the two, she overdosed and her mom found her passed out on the floor. That was when she first went to drug rehab for teens. The girl spent two weeks in residential treatment to break free from her opioid cravings. She also attended outpatient classes and stayed sober for a year. Sadly, she relapsed into the addiction.
She came back to drug rehab to try again. She hopes she can overcome the addiction and return to normal life. For now, her mother is taking care of her son.
“It’s really hard,” Melissa says. Xanax withdrawal can result in irritability, insomnia, anxiety, panic attacks, tremors, nausea and other flu-like symptoms. It can take months. “Treatment is scary,” she adds.
Sharon Levy, director of adolescent addiction treatment at Boston Children’s Hospital and lead author of the adolescent drug use study confirms this.
“Addiction practitioners say they’re seeing a surge in the number of young patients who are hooked on Xanax. Many take high daily doses of the drug, sometimes in deadly combination with opioids and alcohol,” writes The Huffington Post. Levy states that the number of addicted teenagers is increasing rapidly, and that they experiment not only with drugs but also with marijuana, heroin, amphetamine, MDMA and LSD.
The statistics are sad
The European Drug Report 2019 prepared by the European Monitoring Center for Drugs and Drug Addiction states that cannabis is the most commonly used illicit drug by teenagers in Europe. In 2018, about 17.5 million young adults (15-34 years) admitted to smoking marijuana. This accounted for 14.4% of the youth surveyed in Europe. More examples? 21.8% of young adults smoked cannabis in France in 2017, while in Italy in 2017 the number was 20.9%.
The second most-used drug in Europe is cocaine. 2.6 million (2.1%) young adults used cocaine in the last year. 4.7% of young adults used cocaine in Great Britain in 2017, 3.9% in Denmark in 2017, and as much as 4.5% in the Netherlands in 2017.
MDMA is used by 2.1 million (1.7%) young adults in Europe. More details? 7.1% of young adults used MDMA in the Netherlands in 2017, and 4.4% in Ireland in 2015.
The availability of drugs and medicines that young intoxicate with, has never been as easy as today. Although young people most often buy drugs “in the real world”, more and more transactions are made on the Internet.
Amphetamine in the European Union is taken by half as few young adults as cocaine – 1.2 million (1.0%). 3.9% of this age group used amphetamine in the Netherlands in 2017, and 2.5% in Estonia in 2008. The average age at the time of the first amphetamine use is 20 years.
Heroin is the most widespread opioid on the European drug market, with an estimated retail value of 6.8 billion euros in 2013 (it likely ranges from 6.0 billion euros to 7.8 billion euros) – and it continues to grow. The average age at the time of the first heroin use is 23 years.
Many synthetic opioids such as methadone, buprenorphine and fentanyl are also being abused. In the United Kingdom in 2014-15 there were 8.3-8.7 cases of opioid abuse per 1000 people. In Ireland in 2014 it was 6.1-7.0 cases.
The fact that addiction to opioids is dangerous is evident in the 84% of cases of overdose resulting in death.
In May 2017 BBC reported that 20 teenagers from Wiltshire, UK, were hospitalised after taking Xanax. They were 15 and 16 years old. These teenagers did not die, but others were not as fortunate.
In Scotland in 2017, there were 27 deaths reported as a result of taking Xanax. In the UK in 2015, Xanax overdose led to the deaths of 366 people.
“Adolescent Xanax use has skyrocketed,” Levy explains, and adds, “And more kids are being admitted to hospitals for Xanax withdrawal because the seizures are so dangerous. Far fewer kids are seeking treatment for prescription opioid addiction.”
Teenagers are the quickest to become addicted, but there are not enough treatment programmes
Levy explains that more and more young people need help in the fight against addiction. Why?
Adolescents are the most vulnerable to addiction. This time of our life sees the development of the parts of the brain that are responsible for the majority of cognitive processes associated with thinking, such as the ability to predict the consequences of our actions, risk assessment or the ability to make rational decisions. In addition, the rate of this development varies among different parts of the brain, which leads to problems with communication between them. That is why teenagers tend to be impulsive and have mood swings. The so-called reward system develops at the same time, which activates when pleasure is experienced.
The immaturity of the cerebral cortex also results in a tendency to take risky actions, e.g.: trying drugs, and a difficulty in assessing the consequences of one’s actions. In addition, in contrast to the “natural” sources of pleasure, psychoactive substances act directly on the receptors, which provides even greater and faster stimulation, and therefore a greater, more intense pleasure. Therefore, teenagers not only become addicted more easily, but addiction at this age is also greater and more difficult to overcome. Studies show that children who start drinking before the age of 14 are approximately 5 times more likely to develop an alcohol use disorder compared with those who start at the age of 19. A similar pattern is also visible in the case of the use and abuse of marijuana and opioid drugs.
The increasing number of addicted young people is a result of the fact that typical therapeutic centres cannot manage the problem. Until now, the therapeutic offer has been directed primarily at adults.
Few treatment programmes are tailored to the needs of the young people. In general, adolescents are treated worse during therapy compared to adults, largely due to the need for proper care. Of the small number of treatment programmes available to young people, most do not offer drugs for opioid addiction. Currently, <25% of adolescents and young adults identified as having an opioid addiction are treated pharmacologically; for persons under 18, <2% receive medication for addiction treatment. Adult programmes often fail to address and manage the critical developmental sensitivity of the young people.
Need help? Read the guide for parents on our blog: Teenage drug addiction. How to help and not harm?
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