When a person first starts abusing substances, it may not be obvious to their loved ones exactly what is happening. Because every drug is different, the signs of abuse can also vary.
Opioids (drugs derived from the poppy plant or synthetically created to replicate those substances) are one of the most dangerous categories of drugs, resulting in 70 percent of drug-related deaths worldwide. Some common opioids include:
Noticing the Red Flags
Because of how dangerous opioids can be, it is important to recognize the signs of abuse and be ready to offer help if you suspect someone is abusing them. If you are concerned that a loved one may be abusing opioids, look for these signs:
- Taking opioid medications in a way they were not intended, at a higher dose than prescribed, or for longer than the doctor intended
- Taking opioids “just in case” without actually experiencing any physical pain
- Drastic mood swings
- Changes to sleep patterns
- Taking medications from other people or pretending to lose their meds so they can get more from the pharmacy
- Getting more than one doctor to prescribe the same medication so that they can stockpile it for future use
- Poor decision-making in general
Understanding Opioid Addiction
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shared the following facts about opioid addiction:
- Millions of Americans struggle with opioid addiction.
- Opioid Use Disorder (OUD) is a chronic illness which may involve relapses.
- OUD is treatable.
- OUD often begins with a person being prescribed opioids for a legitimate health concern.
- The severity of a person’s OUD can vary and there are screening tools that clinicians can use to help determine how severe a person’s addiction is. This can then help clinicians to build an individualized treatment plan, based on that person’s unique needs.
- Opioid overdoses can be reversed by administering naloxone (sometimes called narcan) right away and calling an ambulance for the person. Naloxone is available in all 50 states and often covered by insurance.
Naloxone forces the person into immediate withdrawal by removing opioid’s access to their brain’s receptors, so the person may need treatment for withdrawal symptoms. The person may also need multiple doses of naloxone to counteract an overdose completely, so it is important for them to be immediately evaluated by medical professionals to ensure they don’t begin to overdose again once an initial dose is delivered.
Every person is unique, so treatment for OUD can also vary from person to person. Some of the most common treatments for opioid addiction include:
- Substance abuse counseling – this may occur in an inpatient or outpatient setting, and duration may vary for each person.
- Talk therapy – many people who struggle with addiction benefit from participating in therapy to help them develop new coping skills, address past trauma, and work on their mental health.
- Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) – there are a few different medications that can be used to help people who struggle with OUD to stay in recovery. Different factors can impact which medication(s) are given to a specific person, such as other medications they are taking, mental health concerns, being pregnant or physical health diagnoses.
Some people mistakenly believe that the medications used to treat OUD will cause a person to become high. However, these medications do not provide euphoric feelings like opioids do, and they do not become replacement addictions. The medications sometimes used to support recovery from OUD include:
- Methadone – reduces cravings and prevents withdrawal symptoms. Can be taken as a pill, liquid or wafer. Methadone can be started very early in the withdrawal process.
- Buprenorphine – reduces cravings and prevents withdrawal symptoms. Comes in tablet or film form. Can cause withdrawal symptoms when misused. Buprenorphine can be started pretty quickly after withdrawal symptoms start.
- Naltrexone – blocks a person’s ability to feel high when taking opioids. This medication is sometimes used in combination with buprenorphine. Naltrexone is available as a pill or a long-acting injectable that is administered by a medical professional once per month. If a person starts naltrexone while there are opioids already in their body, they will have severe withdrawal symptoms. Therefore, the person must fully complete withdrawal from opioids before they can start this medication.
Risks of Not Treating OUD
There are a number of dangerous conditions that can result from ongoing OUD that is not treated:
- Withdrawal – if the person is not able to get opioids and is forced into withdrawal, they may experience anxiety, diarrhea, body aches, fever, vomiting, and dehydration.
- Exposure to bloodborne diseases – drug users who share needles can contract diseases like HIV and hepatitis.
Injection site infections – people who use needles to administer drugs can acquire life-threatening infections at the location where the needle enters their body.
- Lung issues – pneumonia, tuberculous, and asthma-related complications can result from opioid use, as opioids can slow down breathing and stop air flow.
- Cardiac problems – abnormal heart rate and heart attacks can occur as a result of OUD.
- Sexual dysfunction – women can see irregularities in their periods, and men may struggle with sexual performance from regular opioid use.
If you are concerned that you or a loved one may have developed an addiction to opioids, Safe Harbor Recovery Center in Portsmouth, VA, can answer questions and help develop a personalized plan for recovery.