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The Most Common and Noticeable Signs of Opioid Abuse

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Abusing opioids like prescription pain relievers or heroin can lead to a severe substance use disorder if not addressed. If a friend or family member is using an opioid, and you’re worried that it might be leading to addiction, there are a few signs and symptoms you can look for. 

Opioid abuse can bring about physical and behavioral issues and lead to signs of indirect consequences like chemical dependency. Learn more about the most common signs and symptoms of opioid abuse. 

When Abuse Becomes Addiction

Addiction is diagnosed as a severe substance use disorder. You may be able to hide an addiction for a while, but it will eventually start to take over parts of your life until it becomes apparent to your friends and family. Addiction is often identified by compulsive use, even in the midst of consequences. When drug use becomes compulsive, it’s harder to hide. However, it’s important to address a substance use disorder as early as possible. 

Acute Opioid Symptoms

Acute effects refer to the direct effects a drug has while it’s active in the body. Both prescription and illicit opioids have similar effects and side effects while they’re active. These effects can include pain relief, euphoria, and sedation. To someone observing another person who’s taken an opioid, acute effects could manifest in loss of consciousness, lethargy, confusion, cognitive impairment, slowed breathing, or a struggle to stay awake.

If a person is experiencing an overdose, they may lose consciousness, and it may be difficult to wake them. Severe overdoses can lead to respiratory depression and a slowed heart rate. An opioid overdose is a medical emergency and requires medical attention as soon as possible.

Social Signs

Besides physical signs and symptoms, opioid abuse may create social and behavioral signs that you may notice in a friend or family member. There are various potential reasons for some of these signs, but if they accompany physical symptoms or known opioid use, it may point to abuse or addiction. Signs may include:

  • Loss of interest in hobbies
  • Neglect of personal responsibilities
  • Isolation from loved ones
  • Strange sleep schedules
  • Lying about drug use
  • Hiding drugs
  • Struggling at work or school
  • Changes in friend group
  • Lack of hygiene
  • Expressing guilt and shame
  • Denying an issue with opioid use
  • Legal problems
  • Financial problems

Opioid Withdrawal

Opioids can cause chemical dependence, a condition that occurs when your body gets used to the drug in your system. Your brain chemicals may adapt to the presence of an opioid, so quitting or skipping a dose can cause an uncomfortable chemical imbalance. Opioid use can also lead to withdrdawal symptoms within 24 hours of the last dose. 

Symptoms often mimic the flu, causing nausea, sweating, elevated body temperature, fatigue, chills, vomiting, and diarrhea. These physical symptoms will also be accompanied by a powerful urge to use the drug again. People with severe opioid use disorders may become desperate to find an opioid source to stave off the extremely uncomfortable symptoms. Opioid withdrawal usually lasts a week to 10 days before physical symptoms fade.

Sources

American Psychiatric Association. (2017, January). What Is Addiction? from https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/addiction/what-is-addiction

Case-Lo, C. (2019, July 12). Opioid and Opiate Withdrawal: Symptoms and Treatments. from https://www.healthline.com/health/opiate-withdrawal

National Institute on Drug Abuse. (n.d.). Opioids. from https://www.drugabuse.gov/drugs-abuse/opioids

National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2019, November). Heroin. from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/heroin

National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2019, November). 8: Definition of dependence. from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/teaching-packets/neurobiology-drug-addiction/section-iii-action-heroin-morphine/8-definition-dependence

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