People commonly use opiates to reduce physical pain. The medications often are prescribed for relief after surgery or other conditions that cause mild-to-severe pain.
In addition to pain relief, opiates can also produce feelings of euphoria and relaxation that can sometimes influence some users to abuse their medications. As such, the U.S Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has scheduled opiates as a controlled drug, and it is legally obtainable with only an opioid prescription from a physician.
Sometimes it can be difficult to tell if someone is addicted to opiates. Signs that someone is addicted can be as subtle as changes in their finances, to as blatant as needle marks on their arms.
There are many signs that someone is abusing opiates, and some are more noticeable than others. While some require you to look deeper at the person and their lifestyle, some can be more obvious.
Common signs of opiate abuse are:
Let’s discuss a few of the more obvious physical and psychological ones in depth.
CHANGES IN APPEARANCE/LACK OF HYGIENE
Probably the most obvious way to tell that someone is addicted to opiates is the change in their appearance. People who are addicted to opiates will often grow pale, drastically gain or lose weight, and may not even care about their appearance. A lack of attention to hygiene will also contribute to their unkempt look.
Addicted opiate users may primarily only care about getting that high, and then getting to the next one, and the next one. They don’t care about how they look to themselves or anyone. All they care about is how their drug of choice makes them feel. They may even starve themselves if it means taking that next hit.
Poor hygiene and not caring about their appearance can be dangerous, especially for those who use needles. Frequent use of needles while not caring for one’s hygiene only increases the risk of infection and spreading diseases.
STEALING TO FUND THEIR HABIT
Another apparent sign that someone is using opiates is that they’ll steal and sell anything from anyone so that they can continue buying drugs. They’ll steal from their closest family, friends, coworkers, or anyone else to get what they need. No one is exempt.
The strongest urge for a user to steal, especially from someone close to them, is when they’ve run out and withdrawal starts to set in. An individual who’s dependent on opiates to get by will begin feeling sick, anxious, and have trouble sleeping. This very uncomfortable feeling will often drive them to do whatever they can to get more, even stealing.
Opiate addiction can often cause the user to experience intense mood swings. This is usually a glaring sign that something is up. One minute they may feel like a king, and the next, they may feel like the lowest scum of the earth.
These mood swings can happen while during a high and while in the throes of withdrawal. If someone you’re close to starts to exhibit these extreme highs and lows, they have to be struggling with an addiction.
TROUBLE AT WORK OR SCHOOL
Another psychological sign that an addiction may be in progress is drastic changes in a user’s mental health and how it affects their work or school life. Those addicted to opiates can suffer a loss of memory, reasoning, as well as other mental functions. Anyone who is no longer alert or aware of what used to be important to them (family, school, work, etc.) may be addicted.
As the need for more drugs increases in their brain, the desire to do well in work or school diminishes. They may suddenly start to perform poorly on tests or performance reviews, and they won’t care. It seems all they care about is their addiction, and as a result, they’ll let their ability to hold a job or maintain good grades fall away.
Maybe you’ve seen the signs, but you’re still unsure. How do you confirm that your loved one is addicted to opiates?
People will often confront the person, point blank. If the person denies being addicted, even with the obvious signs in place, there’s a good chance that they are addicted.
Some people will look through the addicted individual’s personal belongings to look for signs of drug use, but that can have adverse consequences.
The best thing is to talk to the person exhibiting the tell-tale signs and go from there. Approach them openly with a compassionate demeanor. If they sense judgment from you, they’ll likely shut down or get angry. Be honest about your concerns, and let them speak without you blowing up if they do indeed say they’re struggling with addiction. They need a safe space to share, and you can be that safe space.
As a last resort, you could give them a store-bought drug test. A urine drug test may be able to detect opiates if they’ve used them within the last couple of days. However, they may be unwilling to take the test.
If you discover that your loved one (or you) are addicted to opiates, the next step would be to reach out for help from an addiction specialist. However, not everyone is open to this. The person may not be quite ready to try quitting their chronic drug use. In that case, the best thing you can do is offer support while not enabling their habit. Let them know you’re there, but do not offer them money, a place to stay, or anything that will help them continue in their addiction. If they want to change, they must be willing to do something different.
If they show a desire to get clean and stop using, several treatment options available are available. First, they will need to detox to get the drugs out of their system. The best way to detox from opioid addiction is to taper or wean off the drug over time. This means lowering the dosage incrementally over a series of weeks, which can help when it comes to the uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms.
The best way to detox is under the care of a medical professional, as withdrawal can sometimes be severe and dangerous.
Learning about the process of detox and the next steps toward a full recovery are important, so reaching out to addiction experts is helpful.
Once a recovering opioid user has made it through detox and withdrawal, they can continue on the road to recovery via a residential treatment center, an outpatient center, an intensive outpatient program, and perhaps a 12-step support group.
While many signs of addiction can be hard to see, a few are glaringly obvious to anyone who’s paying attention. Among those are changes in physical appearance, lack of hygiene, mood swings, continual lying, financial issues, and mental health issues leading to problems with work and school performance.
However, with so many treatment and rehab options available, there’s hope for them to once again become the person they were before addiction.
PSY Com. Opioid Abuse. Retrieved from https://www.psycom.net/drug-alcohol-addiction-treatment/opioid-abuse/
John Hopkins Medicine. Signs of Opioid Abuse. Retrieved from https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/opioids/signs-of-opioid-abuse.html
Partnership For Drug Free Kids. Opioids and IV Drug Use. Retrieved from https://drugfree.org/article/opioids-iv-drug-use-risks-warning-signs-help-loved-one/
Narcan. Here’s What Happens In An Opioid Overdose. Retrieved from https://www.narcan.com/patients/what-is-an-opioid-overdose-emergency/