It’s certainly no newsflash that opioid dependence has become prevalent in America. But the fact that teenagers and young adults are more likely to abuse opioid painkillers than older adults might just blow your mind. Between 2002 and 2004, 1.1 percent of people aged 12-17 and 1.3 percent of people aged 18-25 were addicted to prescription drugs. That’s approximately twice the percentage of people between the ages of 26 and 49, and six times the percentage of adults 50 and older.*

And the numbers continue to rise.

From teenagers to mature adults, one thing is certain: people are getting hooked — even overdosing — on painkillers. Today, more people die from opioid overdose than cocaine or heroin. Opioids like Vicodin, OxyContin, Lortab and Percocet are effective for individuals who suffer from severe chronic or acute pain; however, more and more people are using these prescription drugs to alleviate stress and relieve emotional pain.

Abusers of opioids use them as a means to ‘numb out’ and deal with anger, depression, anxiety and insomnia. Pain relievers may provide an escape from reality for a while, but the addiction will backfire at some point. The individual develops a tolerance to the drug, whereby he or she must take more pills to get the same effect as before, and life eventually becomes unmanageable.

Opioid addiction causes long-term damage to the brain and often requires professional treatment for lasting recovery. The biggest challenge in treating those who are dependent on opioids is that long-term use can result in a ‘flat’ effect. In other words, the person becomes apathetic and unmotivated. He or she may no longer care about things, including recovery.

Learning healthy ways to cope and getting professional help are the best ways to overcome opioid dependence. There is hope for the addict, but the road to recovery takes work and a willingness to get better.

*Data based on the 2002, 2003 and 2004 National Surveys on Drug Use and Health (NSDUHs) on the nonmedical use of prescription-type psychotherapeutic drugs.