Teen Athletic Injuries as a Path to Addiction
By Patti Richards
No one plans on becoming addicted to opioids, especially teenage athletes with their whole lives and careers in front of them. But when a painful sports injury threatens to sideline an otherwise healthy young person, fighting through the pain is the only way he or she knows to get back in the game. And when a doctor prescribes something to help in that fight, parents trust and follow the treatment plan. But for many young athletes, prescribing opioids for sports injuries can be the first step on the road to addiction.
A Painful Problem
Pain management after an injury can be challenging. And for a young person dealing with extreme pain after surgery to repair damage or simply to heal from that injury, fear of never playing again can be overwhelming. Physicians, in a desire to minimize that pain and get young athletes up and playing again, prescribe opioids because of their effectiveness. In spite of their addictive properties, opioids change the way the brain and body perceive pain and allow the person struggling to begin moving again which speeds the healing process. Parents want to trust the doctor's advice and follow the treatment plan prescribed so that their son or daughter will heal properly and quickly. And a treatment plan that uses opioids for a short period of time then moves to other forms of pain management is safe for most teen athletes. For families wishing to avoid opioids completely, there are alternatives, that when combined with physical therapy and other holistic options, can be as effective as prescription pain medications. Finding the right balance that works for your child's unique situation is the goal.
The Importance of Communication
No matter the illness or injury, communicating with your son or daughter's doctor about appropriate care is an important part of preventing addiction. For those with a family history of drug or alcohol abuse, using opioids of any kind may simply not be an option. If your child already takes prescription medications for other conditions, such as ADHD or asthma, opioid pain medications may not be appropriate due to potential drug interactions.
In many states, physicians are being encouraged to limit the number of opioid pills dispensed in any one prescription. Rather than automatically prescribing a 30-day supply of Percocet or Vicodin, giving patients only 6 to 8 tablets with no refills helps reduce the risk of developing dependence. State-wide patient monitoring systems also help reduce opioid dependence by limiting the number of opioid prescriptions available to the same person over a period of time.
If your child's doctor feels opioids are the appropriate choice, ask for a small number of pills and for additional pain management options, such as physical therapy, you can use after the opioids run out.
Recognizing Opioid Addiction
Understanding the addictive nature of opioids is the first step to preventing addiction. Taking steps to secure the medication in your home is an important part of using the drugs responsibly. Keep all opioids in your house in a locked cabinet to ensure addictive medications stay out of the reach of children or other young people visiting your house. Count the number of pills you have at least once each week so you can tell right away if any of the medication is missing. For many teens, the first opioid experience happens because a friend or relative's medications aren't secure.
If your young athlete has an injury and uses opioids to deal with pain, look for the following symptoms of drug dependence:
- The appearance of withdrawal symptoms when the drug is stopped
- Needing more of the drug before the next dose is due
- Needing more of the drug to achieve the same level of pain relief
- Becoming preoccupied with getting and using the drug
- Wanting a supply of the drug on hand at all times, and becoming agitated when running low
- Engaging in dangerous behaviors, such as driving, while under the influence of the drug
- Participating in illegal activities, such as stealing, to get more of the drug
- Changes in physical appearance
- Mood swings and other changes in personality
- Withdrawing from friends and family members as well as activities she used to enjoy
Any of these behaviors can signal there is a problem. Call your doctor right away if you suspect a problem is developing.
Finding Help for Opioid Addiction
The current opioid crisis in the United States reminds us that no family is immune to substance abuse. And because many teen athletes are exposed to prescription pain killers at an early age, the risk of developing addiction is increased if medications aren't properly controlled. If you or your son or daughter struggles with opioid abuse, we are here for you. Our admissions coordinators are available 24 hours a day to answer your questions about available treatment options. There is hope and help for your child. Call us now.
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. "Drug Addiction (Substance Use Disorder)."Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 26 Oct. 2017.