In 2017, nearly 2 million individuals misused prescription opioids for the first time and nearly 47,600 people died from an opioid overdose.
Opioid abuse has become a full-blown epidemic in the United States. Do you know a loved one that might be addicted to opioids? Want to know what signs and symptoms to look out for?
Read on to learn about the signs of opioid abuse and tips for getting help.
What Are Opioids?
Opioids are a category of pain medications. They work by temporarily relieving pain. Some opioids are created from the poppy plant while others are created synthetically.
Some examples of opioids include fentanyl, morphine, and oxycodone.
Why Are They So Addictive?
Opioids work by binding to opioid receptors in your brain. Your brain then releases feelings of euphoria and takes away the feelings of pain.
Although these drugs are effective for patients post-surgery and for other instances of extreme pain, they can become highly addictive. Users seek to experience that feeling of euphoria again and again until it becomes a cycle of addiction.
In fact, about 21-29% of people prescribed opioids for pain end up using them the wrong way. And nearly 8-12% end up having an opioid use disorder. What’s more, 4-6% end up using heroin.
Signs of Opioid Abuse
If you suspect a loved one has an addiction to opioids–there are signs to watch out for. Here are signs to be aware of and look for.
If someone is addicted to opioids here are possible behavioral signs:
- Nervous or irritable
- Overly sleepy during inappropriate times
- Seems to change groups of friends
- No interest in social activities
- Avoids spending time with friends or family
- Isolation and avoidance from others
- Appears exhausted
- Changes in appetite
- Erratic behavior–appears very energetic at times or very tired
- Mood swings
- Trouble with finances
- Misses classes, work, or important appointments
- Stops caring about personal hygiene
- Constantly visits the doctor’s office for prescription refills
- Uses opioids in dangerous ways
As you can see above, there are many signs that could indicate an opioid addiction. One major thing to watch out for a sudden change in behavior.
Maybe your loved one is usually social and friendly but suddenly appears withdrawn and isolated. Maybe you notice them doctor shopping in order to get more refills for medication.
Physical and Cognitive Symptoms
There are also physical and cognitive symptoms that an opioid addict may experience.
Physical signs of opioid addiction include:
- Digestive issues such as diarrhea or vomiting
- Dramatic weight loss
- Problems with coordination
- Pupil constriction
- Dry mouth
- Problems with vision
- Scabs or marks on veins if injecting drugs
Cognitive and psychosocial signs include:
- Impaired judgment
- Unable to concentrate or think clearly
- Emotional outbursts
During the early stages of addiction, a user may still maintain their responsibilities such as jobs and classes. After a while, the drug will take a toll on the user and affect all aspects of their life. That’s why it’s important to recognize signs of addiction early on.
Factors That Increase Risk of Addiction
There are some factors that may increase the chances of someone developing an addiction.
People that are at a higher risk of being addicted to opioids include those who:
- Are younger
- Have a history of substance abuse
- Have a family history of substance abuse
- Have problems with the law in the past
- Live with difficult circumstances such as poverty
- Have issues with depression or anxiety
- Engage in risky behaviors
However, not all of these signs mean that a person will become addicted to opioids. Anyone who takes prescription opioids may develop an addiction.
How To Help Your Loved One
It’s difficult to watch a loved one suffer from addiction. There is something you can do to help. You can help your friend or family member seek treatment for their addiction.
There are two main ways to help a loved one seek help. You can have a one-on-one conversation between the two of you. Or, you can stage an intervention with a group of people and the addict.
If you stage an intervention, you have to plan it carefully and choose the right group of people. You have to choose individuals that are close to the addict and have a good relationship with them. You can enlist the help of a medical professional or intervention specialist to help you with this.
Whether you hold an intervention or do it by yourself, the important thing is to know what you will say. You want to explain to your loved one how their addiction has disrupted their life and your life. You might even want to write down what you will say so that you don’t forget it.
You also want to offer a solution in the form of treatment. You can find addiction treatment centers that your loved one can go to in order to seek treatment. Or, you can refer them to a medical professional that can help them.
Treatment for addiction includes a process of opioid withdrawal.
After a while, an addict develops a tolerance to opioids and their body needs it. In order to remove that feeling of dependency, the user has to go through withdrawal.
Withdrawal can be severe depending on factors such as how long the person has been taking the drug and the dosage amount.
In severe cases, a person experiencing withdrawal will need medical assistance and supervision to get through treatment. That’s why many opioid addicts who seek treatment end up going to a treatment facility. They need the help of medical professionals.
Symptoms of opioid withdrawal may include:
- Muscle spasms
There are also medication options that may help with withdrawal including methadone or buprenorphine.
Final Advice for Helping a Loved One with Opioid Addiction
Now that you know the signs of opioid abuse, you can help your loved one seek treatment.
Want to read more about addiction and treatment? Check out more articles in our lifestyle section.