Over two million people in the United States are addicted to opioids. Every day, more than 115 people in the United States die from opioid overdose. And according to worst-case scenario forecasts by top public health experts, this number could spike to as many as 250 daily over the next decade.
These experts further predict that the opioid-related death toll over the next decade could top 650,000. In just a ten year span, opioids could kill nearly the same number of Americans as HIV/AIDS has killed since the beginning of the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s.
Across ten projected scenarios, the average toll was nearly 500,000 deaths over the next ten years. While decisive action at the local, state, and national level has proven difficult, there are actions you can take to help loved ones who may be struggling with opioid addiction.
What Are Opioids?
Opioids include many prescription medications such as codeine, hydrocodone, morphine, oxycodone, and fentanyl. Although fentanyl can be prescribed, an illicitly manufactured synthetic version is also common.
Heroin is an opioid as well, and this is why many heroin addictions begin as prescription painkiller addictions.
Opioids bind to opioid receptors on cells located throughout the brain and body, especially those associated with pain and pleasure. As opioids attach to these receptors, they block pain signals and release large amounts of dopamine. This reinforces the act of consuming the drug, making these substances highly addictive.
With the prevalence of substance abuse, it’s likely that most Americans will come into contact with someone who struggles with opioid addiction.
Below, we’ll share five signs your loved one is addicted to opioids. By spotting these warning signs, you can encourage your loved one to get help sooner rather than later.
Sudden Changes in Behavior
Opioid addiction is often marked by sudden changes in behavior. You may notice your loved one withdrawing from activities and people, possibly in hopes that the problem will go unnoticed.
He or she may also lose interest in hobbies or previously enjoyable experiences, change habits and routines, and begin spending time with new friends and acquaintances. The individual is likely to exercise poor judgment and engage in risk-taking behaviors.
He or she may also appear secretive and devote less attention to grooming and personal hygiene. Sleep and diet patterns commonly change, and addicts may experience financial struggles or ask to borrow money.
Sudden Changes in Personality
Mood swings, particularly shifts from euphoric to irritable, are common among opioid addicts. You may also observe angry outbursts, anxiety, nervousness, and confusion.
Your loved one’s energy levels may fluctuate, with unexplained periods of exhaustion or sedateness. If you notice such characteristics, are they normal for your loved one? If not, consider the possibility of opioid addiction.
Suspicious Behavior with Medications
If your loved one has been prescribed opioids, does he or she seem to be taking excessive amounts? Are the pills running out very quickly? Does your loved one have prescription bottles from multiple providers (indicating possible “doctor shopping”)?
These points may seem obvious, but many people fail to recognize signs of opioid addiction in their loved ones. After all, you don’t want to believe that your close friend or family member is suffering in this way. And commonly, people aren’t educated about the signs of substance abuse.
Researchers at Michigan State University found that of 4,600 respondents, 32 percent could not identify the signs of pill addiction. Daniel Bradford, a researcher in the Addiction Research Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, points out that it’s much easier to spot that someone is drunk than it is to notice that someone is high on opioids.
With opioids, there’s no telltale scent. And while it’s true that a heroin user’s arms may bear track marks, addiction to painkillers leaves no such markings. The easiest way to determine if your loved one is addicted to opioids is to pay attention to medication use. Is the prescription being followed exactly? Are pills going “missing?” Does your loved one seem to be getting especially frequent refills?
Physical symptoms of opioid addiction include:
- Slowed, shallow breathing
- Nodding off
- Constricted pupils
- Constipation (Individuals addicted to heroin may take laxatives)
Heroin, in particular, can cause flushed skin and dry mouth. People struggling with heroin addiction may have skin infections and a compromised immune system.
Because many of the physical symptoms of opioid addiction can be disguised or hidden, it may be easier to recognize more severe withdrawal symptoms. Withdrawal occurs when long-term substance use is stopped or reduced.
Withdrawal from opioids is similar to the flu, with symptoms including:
- Cramping abdominal pain
- Extreme anxiety
- Involuntary leg movements
- Cold flashes with goose bumps
If you notice a loved one exhibiting these warning signs, consider your next step carefully. Before addressing the problem, do some research on possible treatment options. Have a plan in place in case your loved one agrees to seek treatment.
Never confront your loved one while he or she is under the influence. And when you do, approach the subject from a place of concern rather than judgement or blame.
By recognizing these five signs your loved one is addicted to opioids, you can help your friend or family member get the help they need.
Speak to one of our addiction specialists or interventionists today by calling 1-888-249-2590 or click here.