How Young American Adults Are Being Introduced to Opioids

How Young American Adults Are Being Introduced to Opioids
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Wisdom Tooth Removal Surgery Is Often the Genesis of Opioid Addiction for Young Adults

Most teenagers and young adults in the United States have their wisdom teeth removed between the ages of 18 and 25. This is typically an outpatient procedure that involves surgery, anesthesia, and at least a day or two of recovery at home. Doctors often send wisdom tooth surgery patients home with a prescription for painkillers, which are used to alleviate the pain once the anesthesia wears off.

While useful in the days after surgery, these painkillers can be habit-forming for the young adults who take them. Younger recipients of these medications (which often include Vicodin, oxycodone, and other highly addictive opioids) tend to be especially unprepared for their powerful, addictive effects. As a result, many young adults who were taking heavy-duty painkillers often return to their healthcare provider for a prescription refill later on, and many develop an addiction within a year of receiving their first prescription.

Why Younger Americans Are Particularly Susceptible to Opioid Addiction

Opioid addiction among young adults is complex, especially given that there are biological factors which predispose them to drug dependence. The prefrontal cortex of the brain does not fully mature until a person is in their mid-twenties, leaving young people with impaired decision-making abilities and making them more likely to be controlled by the strong impulse to continue using opioid prescription drugs, even after their prescription has expired.

Combined with reduced critical thinking skills, the pleasure centers in young adults’ brains are very mature by the time they reach their teens and twenties. When they begin to use powerful opioid drugs, they experience a rush of feel-good chemicals, which primes them for continued drug use, abuse, and addiction.

In addition to young adults’ biological predisposition to addiction, American doctors generally provide wisdom tooth surgery recipients with a 30-day supply of painkillers and are notoriously relaxed when it comes to renewing prescriptions, making it that much easier for patients to become addicted.

What to Do if a Loved One Develops an Opioid Addiction

Opioid addiction is a slippery slope, and your intervention as a friend or family member can save your loved one’s life. It requires courage to speak up and help your loved one get the care they need, but having reliable information and access to helpful resources can help you have a productive, meaningful discussion and convince your loved one to take positive steps forward.

Say something if your loved one is showing any of these potential signs of opioid addiction:

  • Secretive behavior
  • Disappearing or remaining behind closed doors for hours at a time
  • Small, constricted pupils
  • Falling asleep at inappropriate moments
  • Irritated, flushed skin
  • Impulsive behavior
  • Doctor shopping
  • Taking more than the prescribed dose “just in case”
  • Multiple empty pill bottles in their bathroom, room, etc.
  • Social withdrawal
  • Euphoria
  • Signs of impaired judgment

If you think your loved one may have developed an opioid addiction, the best thing you can do is connect them with a member of our team here at Acceptance Recovery Center. We provide opiate addiction rehabilitation programs in Scottsdale, and we have the knowledge, skill, and experience to come alongside your loved one and help them start over.

Call today to connect with a member of our team and receive a free assessment.

About Dr. Greg Gale, MD

Dr. Greg Gale has been practicing and providing leadership in the field of psychiatry, substance use, and integrated care in the Phoenix metropolitan area for over 11 years. He joins us from his role as a national medical director overseeing behavioral health, substance use, and integrated care services for Humana Behavioral Health. Previously, he was CMO and VP of Clinical Services at Partners in Recovery, a not-for-profit behavioral health and substance use service organization, which operates five clinics throughout Maricopa County. Read more about Dr. Greg Gale, MD