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Teen Fentanyl Addiction and Overdoses

Fentanyl is a potent opioid—up to 100 times stronger than morphine—and just a small amount can be lethal. 1 Overdose deaths among adolescents dramatically increased from 2019 to 2021, and illicitly manufactured fentanyl was involved in many of those deaths.2 If you or someone you love are struggling with fentanyl misuse or addiction, getting help as soon as possible could save your life.

In this article, you will learn how to identify the warning signs of fentanyl use and misuse, the extent of the dangers of fentanyl, and how to find quality, effective treatment.

Teen Drug Addiction

Teen drug addiction and misuse have become a growing concern as overdose rates have increased in this vulnerable age group.2 Exposing the still-developing human brain to drugs in addition to the normal stressors of adolescence can have lasting consequences.3 In addition, brain development and other factors encountered in adolescence may contribute to the initial use and continued misuse of substances that can lead to addiction.3

Factors that may contribute to misuse and addiction among adolescents include:

  • Incomplete brain development. During adolescence, there are decreases in the cells that are involved in specialized brain functions and increases in the cells that pass along information and participate in hormone and emotion regulation.3 The prefrontal cortex and limbic system, responsible for decision-making, reward assessment, memory, emotional response, and motivation also develop significantly.3
  • Family factors. Childhood maltreatment, substance abuse within the family, the perception of parental approval of substance use, marital status of parents, level of parental education, and parent-child relationships can all increase the risk of substance use and addiction in teens.3
  • Physical or sexual abuse. Being a victim of assault increases an adolescent’s risk of substance use by 2 to 4 times.3 In addition, having PTSD is associated with a higher risk of substance use disorder.3
  • Emotional abuse. Abuse of this kind is defined as a situation in which the child’s “intellectual or psychological functioning or development” is negatively affected. Witnessing violence can fall into this category.3
  • A situation in which a child’s basic living necessities, including clothing, health care, or food are not provided.3
  • Deviant peer groups. Adolescents may seek out peers who share a common desire to use substances. Others may befriend members of a peer group who encourage otherwise cautious teens to experiment with substances. This is even more likely amongst teens who come from privileged families, rather than those who have been exposed to substance use at home.3
  • Peer pressure and perception of popularity. The desire to be loved and popular may encourage adolescents to begin substance use, and self-identifying as popular is associated with increased substance use.3
  • Both those who bully and victims of bullying are more likely to engage in substance use than their peers who are uninvolved with bullying.3
  • Mental health disorders. Adolescents with ADHD, depression, and some other mental health disorders are more likely to engage in substance use than peers without mental conditions.3

Signs of Fentanyl Addiction in Teens

Signs of addiction are universally defined by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders, 5th Edition (DSM-5), but every person may exhibit different signs of addiction. Teens are no exception. Therefore, it can sometimes be difficult to identify with certainty whether a teen you know is engaging in fentanyl use.

Typical signs of addiction and substance misuse among teens can include:4

  • Changes in friend groups.
  • Withdrawal from usual family activities.
  • Preference to be alone.
  • Disproportionate anger when confronted about observed behavior changes.
  • Violation of previously agreed-upon curfew hours.
  • Unusual or violent behavior following small disagreements or requests.
  • Signs of being under the influence of a substance.
  • Decline in school performance or skipping classes.
  • Loss of motivation or low productivity.
  • Loss of self-control.
  • Aggression.
  • Stealing money or objects to sell for drug money.
  • Neglect of personal hygiene, appearance, or changes in wardrobe.
  • Changes in personality, such as increased deception or disrespect toward authority.
  • Depression, mood instability, or apathy.
  • Possession of drug paraphernalia, such as tin foil, weight scales, smoking pipes, butane torches, bongs, hypodermic needles, short straws, glass pipes, capsules, and vials.

Why is Fentanyl So Dangerous?

Fentanyl is a particularly dangerous drug because of its potency and prevalence amongst illegally distributed drugs.1 Approximately 50 times stronger than heroin and 100 times stronger than morphine, very little fentanyl is required to cause an overdose.1 Drug suppliers often cut fentanyl into other drug products without informing the buyer.1

The presence of fentanyl in other drugs allows for a cheaper high but makes them more powerful, addictive, and dangerous.1 Fentanyl is visibly indistinguishable from the drugs it is cut into, as it is tasteless and scentless, making it difficult to detect without fentanyl test strips.1 Only 2 milligrams of fentanyl (an amount that fits on the tip of a pencil) is enough to kill some adults.5

In 2022, laboratory testing by the DEA revealed that 60% of fentanyl-laced fake prescription pills contained a deadly dose.5 As a result, fentanyl addiction and overdose have dramatically increased in the past several years, accounting for the vast majority of overdose deaths since the third wave of the opioid epidemic began in 2013.6

Teen Overdose Stats

Fentanyl has proven to be a significant risk for teens in recent years. From 2019 to 2021, overdose deaths among adolescents increased by 109%.2 Deaths that specifically involved illicitly manufactured fentanyl increased by 182%.2 As a result, 84% of all adolescent overdose deaths during that time involved fentanyl, with nearly a quarter being consumed through fake prescription pills.2

Despite the increase in overdoses, the overall rates of adolescent drug use have decreased across the nation.6 That means there appears to be an increased risk for those who choose to engage in substance use.6

Another preventable danger is the lack of knowledge of how to help someone in the event of an overdose. Nearly 67% of teens who died from an overdose had one or more potential bystanders present, but very few provided any overdose response.2 Simply calling 911, trying to keep the person awake, and positioning them to prevent choking can save a life.1

Finding Fentanyl Addiction Rehab for Teens and Adolescents

If you or someone you love are struggling with fentanyl misuse or addiction, enrolling in an addiction rehab program can help. Many rehabs offer programs that cater to the specific needs of adolescents. Additionally, programs will create individualized treatment plans for each person who seeks help, catering to specific needs, personal circumstances, or preferences.

Though individualized, many programs offer the following treatment interventions for fentanyl misuse or addiction:7

  • Group or individual therapies (such as cognitive-behavioral therapy, contingency management, or motivational interviewing)
  • Medication for withdrawal or ongoing maintenance (such as methadone, buprenorphine, or naltrexone)
  • Guidance to increase healthy life skills

Other programs and services may be available depending on the treatment facility. Using the American Addiction Centers (AAC) directories tool, you can easily search for addiction treatment for teens and find a rehab that is right for your adolescent.



  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2023, September 6). Fentanyl facts.
  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2022, December 15). Drug overdose deaths among persons aged 10-19 years—United States, July 2019-December 2021.
  3. Whitesell, M., Bachand, A., Peel, J., & Brown, M. (2013). Familial, social, and individual factors contributing to risk for adolescent substance use. Journal of addiction, 2013, 579310.
  4. Ali, S., Mouton, C.P., Jabeen, S., Ofoemezie, E.K., Bailey, R.K., Shahid, M., & Zeng, Q. (2011). Early detection of illicit drug use in teenagers. Innovations in Clinical Neuroscience .8(12), 2–28.
  5. Drug Enforcement Administration. (2022). Drug Enforcement Administration announces the seizure of over 379 million deadly doses of fentanyl in 2022.
  6. Friedman, J., Godvin, M., Shover, C.L., et al. (2022, April 12). Trends in drug overdose deaths among US adolescents, January 2010 to June 2021. 327(14), 1398-1400.
  7. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2021, June 1). Fentanyl drug facts.


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