There’s no denying that there’s an opioid epidemic in the United States.
It all intensified in the 1990s when pharmaceutical companies started reassuring the medical community that patients would not become addicted to opioid pain relievers.
Soon, healthcare providers began to prescribe opioids at greater rates. And it wasn’t long before this increased use of opioids led to widespread misuse and it was clear that they could be addictive.
Today, roughly 21 to 29 percent of patients prescribed opioids for chronic pain misuse the – with 8 to 12 percent developing an addiction or disorder.
And the signs of opioid addiction aren’t always easy to see.
What Is Opioid Addiction?
Opioid addiction is the uncontrollable and compulsive use of opioids, despite adverse consequences.
Like many other controlled substances, opioids deliver a euphoric feeling for users. And this is what addicts continue to seek.
The problem is, this effect diminishes with regular use/abuse.
That’s because continual use with increasingly higher doses changes the brain so that it functions more or less normally when the drug is present and abnormally when the drug is removed.
In other words, it takes more of the opioid to achieve that same “high.” Eventually, the addict becomes dependent on high amounts of the opioid, simply to feel their baseline.
And taking away the drug results in severe and horrifying withdrawal symptoms.
Many people wrongly assume that opioid addicts take pleasure in their daily substance abuse. They don’t. The majority can’t recall the last time they enjoyed using the drug.
After a certain point, their dependence on the opioid becomes its own kind of prison.
What Are Signs of Opioid Addiction?
The tricky part of being addicted to prescription opioids is that some of the signs are subtle. Especially at first.
But over time, they become more pronounced.
If you suspect that someone you love might have developed an addiction to opioids, here’s what to watch for:
1. Decreased Energy
You might notice a reduction in energy level or physical activities. An addict will not feel like moving around and it’s not uncommon for regular exercisers to give up their workout routines.
2. Weight Loss
If you’re noticing unintentional weight loss, it could be that the use of opioids has changed the person’s metabolism. An addict might try to brush it off and say that he or she is on a diet, so keep track of their food intake.
3. Change in Sleep Habits
With that potential change in metabolism, someone who has developed an addiction to opioids will likely have a change in sleep habits and may sleep more or less than normal.
4. Flu-Like Symptoms
Someone addicted to opioids may experience nausea, fever, and headache – but doesn’t have the flu. They make take more of their drug to counter this.
5. Engaging in Old Habits
Because prolonged opioid use alters the chemical receptors in the brain, it’s not uncommon for addicts to pick up old habits. For example, individuals who quit drinking in the past may start again.
6. Disturbance in Work Routine
As the opioid addiction takes a choke hold, some people don’t feel well enough or have enough energy to get to work on time. Eventually, they may not show up at all.
7. Changes in Relationships
Friends and family who were important in the past may not hold much interest for someone who’s addicted to opioids. They may even opt to spend more time with others who share their addiction.
8. Diminished Libido
Opioids can also cause testosterone and estrogen levels to change. A drop in either of these will decrease the person’s interest in sex.
9. Erratic Spending
As the addiction gets stronger, the person will need more money to support his or her habit. Household cash may disappear, while strange credit card charges may start showing up on the monthly statement.
In line with the erratic spending, the addicted person might start stealing items around the home or workplace. They often pawn these items to make money necessary to support their habit.
This isn’t the garden variety drowsiness. The addict may nod off unexpectedly in the middle of a conversation or even during a meal. When this is happening, the problem has gotten extreme.
12. Lack of Personal Hygiene
Just as it might become too exhausting to go to work or maintain relationships, it eventually becomes too much to shower and shave.
Can Opioid Addiction Be Avoided?
It’s important to note that many people are able to use opioids safely without becoming addicted to them.
But it’s equally important to remember that their potential for addiction is high. Especially for those patients who use them for long-term pain management.
Generally speaking, you are far less likely to become addicted if you can limit opioid use to small dosages and for no longer than a week.
The longer you use them, the more your likelihood of abusing them. And using them for more than a month really increases those chances.
How Is Opioid Addiction Treated?
Like so many other diseases, treatment for opioid addiction will differ from person to person.
The primary objective is to get the addict to stop using the drug. This involves a controlled environment where he or she can detox safely.
During this time, a doctor might prescribe certain medicines to help relieve the withdrawal symptoms and lessen the cravings for opioids. Some of these medicines include methadone, buprenorphine, and naltrexone.
But once the detox has ended, then the objective shifts to avoiding relapse and using again in the future.
This is where behavioral treatments are put in to play to help the addicted person learn how to manage the depression that comes from not using.
These treatments also help them learn how to avoid opioids, handle the cravings, and work to heal damaged relationships. This may be done through individual counseling, group or family counseling, and cognitive therapy.
Support groups are also critical in helping addicts stay strong and connected with an open and accepting community.
Full Recovery from Opioid Addiction Is Possible
So if someone you love is showing signs of opioid addiction, then it’s essential they get into treatment as soon as possible.
And if you’d like to help others battling addiction, then you might consider a career as an alcohol and drug counselor. Every day you’ll change lives – for the better.