While sports are often a great way for young adults to learn teamwork and develop friendships while staying healthy, the risk of injury is inevitable, especially for teens who play high-impact sports. When an injury is severe, a physician may prescribe a potent pain reliever like Vicodin or OxyContin. 

Guidelines increasingly recommend using prescription opioids for only two or three days when treating acute pain from an injury. Unfortunately, despite the risk of addiction, physicians often overprescribe these powerful narcotics. 

From pain relief to dependency 

Student athletes who are eager to return to their sport may be especially at risk for overusing prescribed opioids. Teens who begin playing before an injury is fully healed may rely on the drug to maintain a competitive edge. Meanwhile, the injury itself may worsen, requiring the need for further pain relief and increasing the risk of addiction. 

While each individual responds to opioids differently, it can take as little as two weeks to become dependent. Even teens who would not have considered using drugs recreationally before an injury may find that they enjoy the experience or even begin to crave it. 

From dependency to addiction 

Peer influence may also play a role. Teenagers often experiment and push boundaries—even good kids. Research estimates show that around 20% of young adults between ages 12 and 17 have used prescription drugs recreationally. When an injury leads to access to prescription opioids, it may only increase the temptation to use the drug to get high. 

From prescription opioids to heroin 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that heroin use among young adults between ages 18 and 25 more than doubled between 2005 and 2015. Research also shows that a growing number of young heroin users are current or former student athletes. 

An individual who uses prescription opioids over an extended period often builds up a high tolerance, requiring more and more of the drug to get the same experience. When a prescription runs out, a dependent teen may try to purchase it on the street at exorbitant prices. Unfortunately, heroin, often laced with fentanyl, may offer a cheaper, stronger and much more deadly alternative.