Muir Wood therapist, David Laing

A Parent’s Guide to Understanding Rohypnol Abuse

What is Rohypnol Abuse?

A secret Rohypnol abuse issue could be devastating to a teen, and the problem could go on for years before parents are even aware that a problem is in place.

Studies, such as one published in the journal Addictive Behaviors, suggest that teens living in urban areas have higher rates of addictions than those in rural areas, and that substance abuse is especially common among teens who have poor mental health. However, almost any teen might choose to experiment with drugs, and any child that makes that decision runs the risk of developing an addiction. Most parents are aware of this, and they work hard to keep substances of abuse away from their precious children. Unfortunately, parents might choose to focus on traditional drugs of abuse as they plan their anti-addiction campaign. They might be on the lookout for marijuana, heroin or cocaine, for example, and they might be well aware of what intoxication due to these drugs looks like. Teens, on the other hand, might be experimenting with drugs they consider safe, such as Rohypnol.

Teens impacted by an addiction like this need help, and thankfully, there are a number of approaches that can help a teen in need, as long as parents spot the addiction and find a treatment program that can help.

Understanding the Allure

Rohypnol is sold as a prescription sleep medication in other countries all around the world. It’s not legal for use within the United States, but the prescription status of the drug can still give it cachet among young, naïve users.

These teens might never buy a drug from a dealer, as they might be leery of ingesting a substance that’s made in a homemade laboratory by people who likely sample their products for fun. Prescription drugs, on the other hand, seem safe as they’re made in scientific laboratories that are required to follow specific rules regarding cleanliness, quality and purity. Pulling a Rohypnol tablet out of a bubble pack just seems harmless.

The drug can also be enticing because it’s relatively inexpensive. Dealers in other countries are more than happy to sell pills to people online, and the street price for a Rohypnol dose could be as low as $5. Teens might balk at spending $50 or more on a single dose of other drugs, but the affordability of Rohypnol makes it a somewhat appealing option.

The intense experience Rohypnol can deliver could also be enticing for teens. Being cautious and careful just isn’t part of the teen experience, in general, and many young people are interested in opportunities that are somehow overwhelming or powerful.

Rohypnol definitely fits into this category, as it can deliver intense sensations in mere minutes, including:

    • Profound sedation
    • Impaired judgment
    • Lack of muscle control
    • Vague feelings of happiness

The effects can last for long periods of time too. While adults might steer clear of a drug that can fell them for a day or two, teens might feel like surviving an instance of Rohypnol abuse makes them somehow brave and unlike their peers. For some, it’s an experience not to be missed.

Enhancing the Damage

While Rohypnol can provide intense changes in mere minutes, teens may also find that it’s an interesting ingredient to add to an addiction that’s already in play. Often, that addiction involves alcohol. According to a study published in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence, about 10 percent of teens abuse alcohol, making it the most commonly abused substance for people in this age group. In addition, teen males tend to show signs of alcohol dependence in late teens, due to years of use and abuse patterns, the researchers report. Teens like this, with advanced patterns of use and abuse, may find that they need to take in very large amounts of alcohol in order to feel the intense sensations that were once accessible with only a small amount of drugs.

Rohypnol can be appealing to teens like this, as it can bring about the same sorts of physical changes associated with alcohol, and a pill is all that’s needed to make it happen. Adding Rohypnol to alcohol can also hit a teen with a powerful set of sensations that are difficult to attain with alcohol alone. Teens with advanced addictions may enjoy the idea of making their experiences yet more intense.

Temporary Dangers

While teens might enjoy their experiences while under the influence, intoxication with Rohypnol has also been associated with some significant side effects. For example, the sedation the drug causes can come with a healthy dose of amnesia. Those who are under the influence may be passed out in the corner of a crowded room, and when they awaken, they may have no idea about what’s happened to them. Stories of Rohypnol’s use as a “date rape drug” for teenage girls are legion, but teen boys can also be victims of sexual assault, and they can also be robbed or beaten while under the influence. Some crimes are gender neutral, and when Rohypnol is involved, prosecuting those crimes can be difficult or impossible. Victims might not know what happened to them, and they might have no idea about whom to blame.

Rohypnol can also cause breathing rates to slow. The body depends upon regular breathing in order to pull in oxygen and remove harmful byproducts. A person who isn’t breathing at the proper speed might not get the right kind of nourishment, and that person might also develop a toxic mix of byproducts in the bloodstream.

Teens are often unaware of what an overdose to Rohypnol looks like, and they might be reluctant to bring strange behavior to the attention of adults and authorities, out of fear that they’ll be prosecuted for their participation in a spree that led to an overdose. Taking Rohypnol in a group setting could mean dying in a crowd of others who aren’t willing to do something to prevent the death.

From Abuse to Addiction

While some of the dangers attributed to Rohypnol concern the drug’s actions inside the body and the changes the drug brings about in the moment, it’s also been associated with long-term problems in young people. Addiction, for example, is a serious problem among people who take drugs like Rohypnol.

Benzodiazepine drugs like Rohypnol work on the same chemical pathways used by notorious drugs like heroin and opium.

These drugs flood the body with symptoms of bliss and pleasure, delivering a sensation that’s almost impossible to match in everyday life. An article in the journal Current Pharmaceutical Design suggests that people rapidly develop a tolerance to the sedation benzodiazepines can cause, so taking these drugs repeatedly might not mean being asleep all the time. In fact, someone with an addiction might seem normal while high, not sedated or euphoric at all.

Unfortunately, tolerance can lead to addiction, as brain cells amend their function due to the constant presence of drugs. In time, people need these drugs on a cellular level, and they feel horrible without them. In advanced cases of Rohypnol addiction, people even develop seizures when they attempt to stop taking the drug. Their bodies need the substance, and it can seem impossible for people to stop.

Parental Action Required

As parents learn more about Rohypnol, they may be moved to ask for new laws that would:

    • Ban the importation of the drug
    • Penalize dealers
    • Fine manufacturers
    • Remove existing pills from the marketplace

If the drug just isn’t available, these parents might reasonably think their children won’t be tempted to take them. The research suggests, however, that teens with addictions can be clever and crafty, and often, they work around the laws that are designed to stop them.

In Norway, for example, laws banned the sale of Rohypnol in 2004. Research published in in 2006 suggests that users simply shifted from this drug to another that was quite similar. They didn’t recover from their addictions as much as find a new target for abuse. Studies like this demonstrate the permanence of addictions, and they show just why parents must get involved. These aren’t issues that tend to fade away on their own, so parents must do something.

Enrolling a child in a program for Rohypnol addiction can seem drastic, and some parents balk at the suggestion that their children need professional help. In a program like this, however, teens have access to a team of professionals that can help them get through the withdrawal process and learn how to shore up their inner defenses, so they won’t be prone to use and abuse in the future.

At Muir Wood, for example, we help adolescent boys who have addictions and behavioral difficulties. We utilize traditional therapy methods that can help to build vital relapse prevention skills, but we also provide the educational support that can keep teens on track and moving toward a profitable future. We provide a large number of therapies that are designed to enhance emotional competence, so teen boys aren’t trapped by emotional stunting. With this help, teens can stop Rohypnol abuse, and they’ll also have the skills that can allow them to transition to a happy, healthy, well-adjusted adulthood. That’s what any parent wants, and we can help. Please call us to find out more program specifics.