Opioid addiction is characterized by compulsive use and a lack of control. Once addicted, the urges to use opioids are so intense it can be hard to stop. Continuing to use opioids despite major consequences is the ultimate sign of addiction.
Opioids include, but aren’t limited to:
- hydrocodone (Vicodin)
- hydromorphone (Dilaudid)
- oxycodone (Oxycontin)
A crucial step to overcoming addiction is knowing the signs, but they aren’t always apparent. Each person experiences addiction differently, and opioid/opiate abuse can be especially difficult to notice. The signs are subtle, but looking closer can save a life.
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Here are seven common signs of opioid abuse and addiction:
1. Behavioral Changes
Behavioral changes are often the first signs. The person avoids making eye contact with friends or family, experiences mood swings, quickly becomes irritable and is nervous or unusually excited or euphoric. They go through abrupt changes in energy levels and become hostile without warning.
Previously enjoyed activities become neglected in favor of getting high. The person abruptly switches friend groups, engages in secretive behavior and becomes isolated. They hide things, show a tendency to steal and experience legal problems that seem out of the blue. Overall, they act differently and something is not right.
2. Physical Changes
Opioid use takes a toll on the body. The person experiences noticeable changes in physical appearance, like weight loss or weight gain. Sometimes when they talk, they slur their words or have a raspy voice. Their breathing is slower than usual and when they walk, they’re unbalanced and have problems with coordination.
Other physical signs or changes include constipation, pinpoint (small) pupils, decreases in sexual desire or performance, flushed skin, extreme drowsiness and scarring or needle marks on their arms, hands or feet.
3. Growing More Drowsy, Distant And Detached
The person frequently appears drowsy and distant to the outside world, becoming detached from family or friends. When you look into their eyes, something seems off. They lack awareness of the people and things around them, are inattentive and no longer interested in doing their usual hobbies.
They also go “on the nod,” or are seen “nodding off,” or falling asleep, drifting in and out of consciousness any time of the day and taking more naps than usual. Their personality is different and they have trouble making decisions.
4. Problems With Memory, Relationships, And Other Obligations
The person may appear confused, disoriented and have trouble concentrating, which adversely affects relationships and other aspects of life. They’re slow to respond to questions, avoid problem-solving and ignore obligations. Work performance slips or grades lower in school.
Relationships further deteriorate because they favor opioid use over maintaining bonds with friends and family. They have problems remembering appointments or paying attention to loved ones, missing gatherings or skipping out on plans without notice. Things become neglected, like daily chores, calling family or taking care of their personal hygiene and appearance.
5. Going “Doctor Shopping” Or Moving On To Heroin Use
“Doctor shopping” refers to patients obtaining opioid prescriptions from multiple healthcare providers, without the prescribers knowing the patient has another prescription. They also may claim to have “lost” their prescription and need another one filled, or complain the pain is so bad they need a stronger prescription.
When prescription drugs are too difficult to obtain, they turn to more available opioids, like heroin. Heroin works similarly to most prescription opioids, fulfills the urges and cravings and is more powerful when injected. Many heroin addictions stem from initial prescription opioid abuse.
6. Odd Items/Drug Paraphernalia
Opioids are abused in a variety of ways. They are taken orally, snorted, smoked and injected. Certain items, like piles of burned tinfoil, medication bottles with the labels ripped off, tiny pieces of balloons or bloodied cotton swabs are found in rooms or trash cans.
Other odd items related to opioid abuse include hose clamps, syringes or needles, bent spoons, rolled up dollar bills and straws or tubes cut into smaller pieces.
7. Withdrawal Symptoms After Stopping Use (“Dope Sickness”)
Withdrawal symptoms occur after a person develops a physical or psychological dependence on opioids. This is often referred to as being “dope sick,” and is characterized by intense flu-like symptoms that are unbearably painful. Withdrawal symptoms can occur just a few hours after the drug wears off.
A person may complain of feeling sick during the week. Calling in sick to work or school consistently every week may suggest they’re engaging in heavy opioid use on the weekend, and going through withdrawal during the week.
If you relate to any signs of opioid addiction or notice any signs occurring in a loved one or family member, it’s crucial to seek help. Without help, stopping use is extremely difficult. But, addiction is a treatable disease. Treatment usually consists of a medically supervised detox program, followed by a combination of medications and behavioral therapy.
Detox programs ensure a person is safe and sober during the uncomfortable process of withdrawal. These programs typically take place in a hospital, inpatient treatment center, or opioid treatment center and allow staff to administer medications to alleviate symptoms, provide support and prepare them for additional treatment.
Medications can be used in this process. There are three government-approved medications: methadone, buprenorphine (Suboxone) and naltrexone (Vivitrol). These medications are effective for lessening dependence, reducing drug cravings, alleviating uncomfortable symptoms and motivating participation in therapy.
Therapy is the most common form of addiction treatment and works to change destructive patterns of behavior and how a person thinks about drugs. Two common behavioral therapies effective for treating opioid addiction include cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), which involve developing coping skills and healthy habits for long-lasting recovery.