Youth and young adult substance abuse in Florida is a serious problem. Young adults are the largest group of opiate users in the state. In 2015, of those in Florida who sought rehab, 47.5 percent of people addicted to heroin and 48.2 percent of people addicted to opioids were aged 30 and under.
On the whole, more than three thousand kids under 18 were admitted to rehabilitation facilities in Florida in 2015. That’s 10.6 percent of the total number of people admitted to rehab in Florida.
Many more kids struggling with substance abuse and addiction have not yet asked for help. It’s a sad fact that many of the young people who are currently abusing drugs won’t see the worst of addiction until their lives are devastated — or over.
When parents develop chemical dependencies, it can have tragic consequences for their children. Half of the children in Florida’s child welfare system are there because their parents have a substance abuse problem, and 45 percent of Florida parents who lose custody of their kids struggle with addiction.
The children of addicts can suffer tremendously. From 2008 to 2014, 238 Floridian kids died because of neglect or abuse by parents with chemical dependencies, according to the Miami Herald. Many of those parents were addicted to painkillers or other opiates. Florida’s levels of opiate addiction have reached crisis levels in recent years.
When chemical dependency takes over a parent’s life, they neglect the everyday chores and necessities needed to keep a safe home. Their children sometimes go without food or clean clothes, or worse.
Children who grow up in meth labs are exposed to all those dangers. They are also at high risk of dangerous developmental disabilities. Methamphetamine production requires all sorts of hazardous chemicals. Routine exposure to meth’s precursor chemicals can lead to organ failure, stunted growth, and cognitive disability.
Some children are even born with the addictions of their parents. If a mother uses drugs while pregnant, the prenatal child is also exposed to the substance and can develop a chemical dependency on the drug. If this happens, the newborn baby will go through withdrawal symptoms.
One little boy, Evan Longanecker, was born addicted to methadone. According to the Miami Herald, “the Citrus County infant was born so severely addicted that he suffered tremors, shaking and jitters as he endured withdrawal from the drug.”
His mother was one of four addicted women whose babies died while breastfeeding.
Addicts’ kids also run the risk of falling into addiction themselves. Children of drug addicts are more likely than children from addiction-free families to develop a drug dependency. Scientists suggest that some people are likely to become addicted to drugs based on their genetics. Kids who have been abused have a higher risk of drug addiction than the general population. Many addicts abuse their families.
According to psychologists, parents can model the cycle of addiction to children. Without meaning to, parents teach their children that an addicted lifestyle is normal. It’s all these children have ever known.
Still, anyone from any background can develop an addiction. Many American kids experiment with drugs and alcohol while they are in high school, or even middle school. Many of them take it too far and become dependent on the substance they try.
Adolescents who abuse drugs often start by trying alcohol and marijuana, which might seem harmless. After all, alcohol is ubiquitous and legal.
Marijuana is also very easy to come by. Pot use has broad social acceptance, and it’s legal in many states. In 2016, 71 percent of Floridians voted to legalize medical marijuana in their state. In all likelihood, pot will become even more available to Floridians.
Since pot and alcohol are so accessible, they’re the drugs that teens most often abuse. In 2015, 56 percent of the Florida teenagers who went to rehab were treated for marijuana use. In 2011, 37 percent of Florida high schoolers in grades 9–12 reported past month drinking and 19 percent of these students had drunk heavily before they turned 13.
It’s likely that there are even more adolescent heavy users of alcohol and marijuana than these statistics suggest. Teenagers are disinclined to talk about their drug use to authority figures. Young people are also unlikely to self-report addiction.
Teenagers are likely to use drugs if their friends do. Adolescents are particularly susceptible to peer pressure and feel a constant need to fit in. Drugs have a glamorous, dangerous mystique that teenagers are quick to embrace.
And teenagers tend to push the limits of rules and authority figures. They resent direction and might dismiss legitimate concerns about their substance abuse as heavy handedness by parents and other adults.
Many kids experiment with alcohol, marijuana, or hallucinogens. Fortunately, those drugs have the lowest risk of dependency among habit-forming substances.
Unfortunately, adolescents and young adults do use more dangerous substances. Too many teenagers and young people abuse hard drugs like opiates, cocaine, and methamphetamine.
Young people are particularly at risk of opiate use. As mentioned above, people under the age of 30 are almost half of the population admitted to treatment for heroin addiction and opiate abuse. The heroin crisis has reached epidemic proportions nationwide. Most of its new victims are young adults. Florida is no exception to that trend.
Florida’s kids are also in danger of opioid addiction. Opioids are a class of synthetic drugs that are often used for pain relief, and they are incredibly common. Many households have opioids in their medicine cabinets. Drugs like Vicodin and OxyContin are prescribed every day to help medical patients recover from surgery and major injury.
If teenagers are using other drugs, there’s a good chance they could start using opioids. They might share their parents’ old pills with friends. Some sell their family’s drugs to other kids at school. Teens could easily wind up hooked on a powerful narcotic.
Younger children are also at risk. There have been reports across the United States of toddlers eating and overdosing on opioids because they look like candy.
Indeed, the ubiquity of painkillers has led to a growing number of child deaths. Opioids poisoned 13,000 kids between 1997 and 2012 nationwide. The amount and frequency of those deaths has gone up every year, as opioids have become more and more available.
For the teenagers who get hooked on opiates and other drugs, treatment is essential. Addiction becomes more difficult to break with each passing day. Addicts’ brain chemistries change over the course of their addiction. Drug users can become unable to experience happiness or pleasure outside the influence of their substance.
Residential treatment is the best way to overcome that cruel fate. That fate is especially harsh for young people who have not lived full, rich lives. Early addiction can trap a young person in a miserable, violent lifestyle. Without rehab, young addicts’ lives can end before they ever really begin.