Opiates, also known as “opioid painkillers,” include prescription drugs such as hydrocodone, fentanyl and morphine. These substances are effective pain relievers when taken as directed by a physician. However, the calming effects that opioid painkillers produce are habit-forming and can lead to future patterns of abuse. As doctors continue to prescribe these medications with the sincere desire to ease the pain of patients, the unfortunate reality is that too many people become addicted to them. For those people who use them, they often don’t know how to recognize the signs of opioid addiction because, in their minds, the drugs are working and their pain is under control. It’s important to be able to understand the signs of opioid addiction whether you’re the one taking prescription medication or if a loved one is exhibiting signs of opioid addiction. It’s also important to remember that as the addiction advances, people will go to extreme lengths to get the drugs. Some will even go to extreme lengths to get high quicker, or with more intensity. This may mean smoking, snorting or injecting it. In the early stages of addictions, examples of opiate abuse include taking the medication more frequently or in larger amounts than originally prescribed. Continued patterns of opiate abuse can lead to a spiraling addiction, which is difficult to overcome without the help of medical professionals. If you suspect a loved one is struggling with a dependence on painkillers, it’s important to take action immediately before the situation becomes worse.
To help identify whether someone is battling a painkiller abuse problem, there are several physical and behavioral warning signs to watch out for. The most common physical and behavioral signs of opiate abuse and addiction are:
- Needle marks on arms and legs from intravenous (injected) use
- Constricted, “pinpoint” pupils
- Having trouble staying awake, or falling asleep at inappropriate times
- Flushed, itchy skin
- Withdrawing from social activities that were once enjoyed
- Sudden and dramatic mood swings that seem out of character
- Impulsive actions and decision-making
- Engaging in risky activities, such as driving under the influence
- Visiting multiple doctors in order to obtain more prescriptions
Once a substance use disorder is identified, it’s vital to seek support as soon as possible. Some people are able to shed their abuse and addictive habits by talking to their doctor about adjusting their current prescription. Others may consider joining a 12-step program or meeting with a substance abuse counselor. However, those who have fallen victim to addiction will generally require intensive care at an inpatient rehab center.
Immediate Side Effects of Opiates
Short-term side effects of opioid painkillers depend on the type of drug, how much of the substance is taken and how it is administered. The effects of these drugs typically occur within 15 to 30 minutes and may last up to several hours. The immediate side effects of painkiller use include:
- Relaxed state of mind and body
- Feelings of calmness
- Increased or false confidence
- Slowed and shallow breathing
- Impaired judgment
- Itchy, flushed skin
- Blurred vision
- Weight loss
- Euphoric mood
Opioids: The Deadly Epidemic
Much has been written about the growth of this epidemic. The crisis is now more public because of news reports showing homeless drug users using openly in major cities like San Francisco, Los Angeles and Orange County. California’s leadership has absolutely no clue how to handle the crisis but instead, largely ignores the recommendations of addiction specialists. For you or your loved on suffering from addiction, you can’t wait for government intervention. You need to act if you want to save a life.
Recognizing an Opiate Addiction
Identifying an addiction to opioids isn’t always easy. There’s confusion between what is considered abuse, and what is considered addiction in the eyes of some people. Some who are caught up in the throes of addiction tell themselves little lies, like “I can quit at any time.” Medically speaking, abuse is defined by any inappropriate use of medications, such as:
- Taking larger amounts of a medication than prescribed
- Consuming a medication that was not prescribed to them
- Mixing a medication with another substance, such as alcohol, to exaggerate the drug’s effects
All three of these are signs of opioid addiction and must be taken seriously. This is black and white, no gray area. Of course, not everyone who uses painkillers will get becomes addicted. However, if a person is abusing drugs, or consuming them in large amounts or for extended periods of time is more likely to become an addict. The telltale characteristics of addiction include intense cravings and a strong desire to obtain or use the drug – despite any negative consequences that may occur. A person suffering from addiction is incapable of controlling the level of their substance use. They may desperately want to quit, but they feel unable to do so on their own. They will sacrifice everything to get the drug – family, children, friends, career – and even turn a blind eye to criminal convictions. At this point, they’re in deep trouble – the addiction has taken control of their life. If you think about this, it’s amazing just how nonchalantly addicts will take such giant risks to get a drug. They know the consequences could include:
- Losing a job due to prioritizing substance use over work responsibilities
- Financial issues stemming from spending too much money on new prescriptions
- Criminal charges for possessing painkillers without a prescription
- Damaged relationships with family members, friends and romantic partners
The only conclusion is that addiction is so powerful, it destroys all ability to reason.
Get Help Before It’s too Late
Start with contacting a recovery center. They’ll walk you though your options and make recommendations. Whatever your choice, you need to stop enabling addicts – your enabling could cost them their life.