Risky Behaviors & Teen Opioid Abuse

Students Discussing parents Teaching Teens Responsible Drinking

Researchers at the University of Colorado School of Medicine suspected that adolescents who misused prescription opioids were more likely to engage in other risky behaviors. After researching their hypothesis, their suspicions were confirmed, and they published their findings in an article in the Journal Pediatrics titled Prescription Opioid Misuse and Risky Adolescent Behavior, which confirmed their suspicions. [1]

Teen Opioid Abuse Results

According to the study, 14 percent of U.S. adolescents reported ever misusing opioids in 2017. Those who misused prescription opioids were significantly more likely to have engaged in 22 other risky behaviors measured by the researchers when compared with other adolescents. The findings highlight that adolescents who have misused prescription opioids were also:

  • 2.8 times more likely to report never or rarely using a seatbelt
  • 2.8 times more likely to have ridden with an intoxicated driver
  • 5.8 times more likely to have driven under the influence
  • 3.9 times more likely to have reported first sexual intercourse before age 13
  • 4.8 times more likely to have reported sex with four or more partners
  • 2.0 times more likely to have not used a condom before last sexual intercourse
  • 4.9 times more likely to have ever attempted suicide
  • 5.1 times more likely to have carried a gun in the past 30 days

On Top of Risky Behaviors, Opioid Misuse has Serious Health Risks

Opioid pain medication abuse also predicts a future opioid use disorder. Misusing or abusing prescription pain medication misuse can have severe medical consequences, including respiratory distress, seizures, heart failure, and death.

Teen Opioid Abuse Common Risk Factors

Group of Happy Teens overcoming Teen opioid abuseAccording to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), some teens are more vulnerable and likely to engage in risky behaviors than others. The CDC reports, “Teen substance use is…associated with sexual risk behaviors that put young people at risk for HIV, sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), and pregnancy.”[2]

The CDC resource states that common risk factors for teen opioid abuse and sexual risk behaviors include:

  • Extreme economic deprivation (poverty, over-crowding)
  • Family history of the problem behavior, family conflict, and family management problems
  • Favorable parental attitudes towards the problem behavior and/or parental involvement in the problem behavior
  • Lack of positive parent engagement
  • Association with substance-using peers
  • Alienation and rebelliousness
  • Lack of school connectedness

This information means that parents, educators, and other professionals who work with teens who have a history of prescription opioid misuse need to be aware that other risky behaviors are possibly happening.

For counselors and medical professionals, it would be wise to ask about other risky behaviors during the intake process and include questions that address not only drug and alcohol abuse, but also:

  • Sexual behavior
  • Suicidality
  • Driving under the influence
  • Riding with other drivers under the influence
  • Violence
  • Access to guns


1. Bhatia, D., Mikulich-Gilbertson, S. K., & Sakai, J. T. (2020). Prescription Opioid Misuse and Risky Adolescent Behavior. Pediatrics, e20192470. doi:10.1542/peds.2019-2470

2. Substance Use and Sexual Risk Behaviors Among Teens. (2018, July 11). Retrieved April 8, 2020, from https://www.cdc.gov/healthyyouth/factsheets/substance_use_fact_sheet-detailed.htm

About the Authors:

Travis StewartTravis Stewart, LPC has been mentoring others since 1992 and became a Licensed Professional Counselor in 2005. His counseling approach is relational and creative, helping people understand their story while also building hope for the future. Travis has experience with a wide variety of issues which might lead people to seek out professional counseling help. This includes a special interest in helping those with compulsive and addictive behaviors such as internet and screen addiction, eating disorders, anxiety, and perfectionism. Travis’ website is wtravisstewart.com

Co-authored by Laura J. Stewart, Missouri State University

Laura J. Stewart received her Bachelor degrees in Psychology and Gerontology in 2020 from Missouri State University. She has worked with senior adults in an assisted living environment and as a mental health tech in residential eating disorder treatment. Her interests include eating disorders, gerontology, and organizational psychology.

The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of addictions. These are not necessarily the views of Addiction Hope, but an effort to offer a discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

We at Addiction Hope understand that addictions result from multiple physical, emotional, environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an addiction, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.

Reviewed and Approved by Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on April 23, 2020
Published April 23, 2020, on AddictionHope.com

About Baxter Ekern

Baxter Ekern is the Vice President of Ekern Enterprises, Inc. He contributed and helped write a major portion of Addiction Hope and is responsible for the operations of the website.