Medication-assisted treatment can help your child overcome his or her opioid addiction. Learn more about what it is, how it works and if it could work for your family.
Opioids include prescription painkillers like OxyContin, Percocet and Vicodin as well as the illicit drug heroin and synthetics like Fentanyl, and are a group of drugs known for high risks of dependence and addiction.
Medication-assisted treatment is the use of anti-craving medicine such as naltrexone (Vivitrol), buprenorphine (Suboxone) or methadone — along with comprehensive therapy and support — to help address issues related to opioid dependence, including withdrawal, cravings and relapse prevention. Evidenced-based treatment approaches like this are often needed to successfully overcome addiction and maintain long-term recovery.
Many teens and young adults first use opioids when they are prescribed them following an injury or routine procedure like the removal of wisdom teeth. Common prescription opioids include Codeine (for example, Tylenol with Codeine), Fentanyl, Hydrocodone (Vicodin or Lorcet), Morphine and Oxycodone (Percocet or OxyContin).
For a variety of reasons — to party and get high, or to cope with stress — some teens and young adults intentionally misuse opioids. The vast majority of those misusing prescription drugs are getting them from the medicine cabinets of friends, family and acquaintances. Some young people start misusing prescription opioids and then switch to heroin as it becomes cheaper or easier to acquire.
Opioid use and misuse can create brain changes that lead to addiction. A person who is addicted develops an overpowering urge, or craving, for the drug. The person also experiences a loss of control, making it more difficult to refuse the drug, even when use becomes harmful. Most people who are addicted to opioids cannot taper off (use less of the drug over time) without help.
“We all think, ‘Why can’t these people just stop?’ and it’s not like that,” explains Dr. Alicia Murray, a psychiatrist specializing in addiction. “They’re not the same person once they become dependent on drugs. They’re a different person. They can’t get to those same skills that they once could get to. Because their brain is now rewired. It’s only thinking about the drug.”
When people become dependent on opioids, they feel sick when there are no opioids in the body. This sickness is known as withdrawal. Along with intense cravings, withdrawal is a hallmark of opioid addiction, and the two combined can make recovery especially difficult.
By helping to reduce cravings and withdrawal, medication-assisted treatment can help a person stop thinking constantly about the problem drug. This allows the person to focus on returning to a healthy lifestyle. Learn more about the options for medication-assisted treatment.
In addition to tailoring medications to address cravings and withdrawal, a comprehensive treatment approach will also include therapy or counseling to address behavioral issues, support recovery and prevent relapse. Family therapy is especially effective for teens and young adults to address substance use along with other issues.
Some people in treatment programs for addiction, or who are seeking help through a 12-step program, may be told that medication-assisted treatment is simply substituting one addictive drug for another. This is not true.
Taking medication for opioid addiction is like taking medication for any other chronic disease, such as diabetes or asthma. When it is used according to the doctor’s instructions, the medication will not create a new addiction.
As a parent, you are responsible for helping your child be healthy and safe, no matter what others think or say. You are your child’s biggest advocate, so never let embarrassment stand in the way of getting your teen or young adult the help they need and deserve.