Identifying the Signs of Opioid Addiction and Getting Treatment

Opioid abuse, addiction, and overdose continues to be a growing problem in the United States. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, from 1999 to 2016 more than 200,000 people died from opioid overdoses in the U.S. Furthermore, overdose related deaths in 2016 were five times higher than in 1999. Prescription opioids were involved in more than 40% of those deaths. That puts many people at risk for opioid related problems. 

• People between the ages of 25 and 54 had the highest overdose rates. 
• Men were more likely to overdose than women. 
• The most common prescriptions involved in overdoses are Methadone, OxyContin, and Vicodin. 

Help yourself and your loved ones avoid the negative effects of opioid abuse and addiction. Start by understanding what opioids are. Next, learn to recognize the signs of opioid abuse. Finally, find out how to get help and treatment for opioid addiction. This article will provide you with information and resources for each step. 

What Are Opioids?

Opioids are pain relievers that are also referred to as opiates or narcotics. They are one of many medications used to treat pain. About one in five patients will be prescribed opioids to treat moderate to severe pain from trauma, surgery, or chronic pain. Opioids are derived from the opium plant. Morphine and Codeine are natural opium derivatives. There are many synthetic versions of opioids including: 

• Demerol 
• Dilaudid 
• Fentanyl 
• Heroin 
• Hydrocodone 
• Methadone 
• OxyContin 
• Percocet 
• Percodan 
• Vicodin 

How opioids work

Opioids change how the brain responds to pain. They work on the brain, spinal cord, and other parts of the body to reduce the transmission of pain signals to the brain and to reduce the sensation or feeling of pain. 

Risks associated with opioid use

Opioids are safe when prescribed and monitored by a doctor or healthcare professional. They are best suited for short term use. When patients use them for long term conditions and chronic pain, the risks of side effects, dependence, or addiction increase. One of the side-effects of opioids is that they can produce a state of euphoria, a heightened sense of well-being. This is the primary reason that people begin to abuse and become addicted to opioids. 

Recognizing Opioid Abuse

In the very early stages, some people take opioids strictly to get high, i.e. feel euphoria. Others develop a tolerance and require higher doses to effectively manage pain. Opioids are controlled substances listed as schedule 2, 3, or 4 by the USDEA. In addition, many states have controlled substance laws that govern the use and prescribing of opioid medications. For this reason, some people resort to alternate ways of obtaining opioids including having friends or family members get doctor prescriptions or buying them “on the street.” 

How to tell if a loved one is addicted to opioids

Some signs to look for in your friends, family, and loved ones include: 

• Mood changes, especially frequent and severe mood swings 
• Changes in sleeping habits or patterns 
• Poor decision-making and risk-taking behaviors 
• Seeking behaviors including borrowing opioid medication from others and getting prescription from multiple doctors and specialists 

Keep in mind that addiction, like clothing, looks different on different people. Some people continue to be highly functional in their daily activities while struggling with opioid addiction. Others show more traditional symptoms of addiction including changes in physical and mental health, reduced social functioning, and inability to manage employment, financial responsibilities, and personal relationships. 

What doctors look for to diagnose opioid abuse

Healthcare providers are often the first resource to help identify opioid abuse. Specifically, doctors will look for these signs and symptoms. 

1. Tolerance. This is evidenced when you or a loved one need higher doses to manage pain or when medication is needed for longer periods of time. 
2. Psychological effects. The doctor may note difficulty stopping opioid use even though there is a desire to stop. There may be strong cravings and uncontrollable urges to use more opioids. 
3. Dependence. Physical dependence is evidenced by withdrawal symptoms that can range from mild to severe. 

Addiction vs dependence

Addiction is the result of environmental, genetic, and neurological factors that result in compulsive drug use. Dependence is a physiological response to withdrawal from opioids. Withdrawal symptoms include anxiety, increased pain, sweating, rapid pulse and heartbeat, stomach distress including diarrhea, nausea, or vomiting. 

Opioid abuse disorder

You may be familiar with the term substance abuse disorder, which can apply to alcohol and drugs. The symptoms of opioid abuse disorder are like substance abuse disorder but are specific to the type of opioid being used. It incorporates elements of both opioid dependence and addiction. 

Getting Help and Treatment for Opioid Addiction

There are many treatment options available to help you or a loved one to overcome opioid addiction. Common treatment options include: 

• Medically assisted detoxification 
• Short-term or long-term residential treatment 
• Individual counseling 
• Group counseling 

Medically assisted detoxification, or supervised detox, provides medical and supportive care designed to minimize the negative effects of opioid withdrawal. Short-term residential treatment programs generally follow the 12-step approach and provide supportive services to resident and their family members. Long-term treatment focuses on meeting psychological and social needs in addition to detoxification. Individual and group counseling can occur in both inpatient and outpatient programs. Individual counseling may focus on cognitive behavioral therapy, while group counseling may focus on peer support with guidance from a professional counselor. 

The National Institute on Drug Abuse has more information on treatment options. For proper diagnosis and treatment, consult a healthcare professional or qualified addiction and rehabilitation program in your area.