An opiate drug epidemic is affecting our nation and our families, and in addition to the large numbers of individuals who abuse illicit opiates like heroin, far too many Americans are struggling with addiction to prescription opioid painkillers. Opioid addictions can be dangerous and deadly, as these drugs can cause a fatal overdose. Because of this, it is of great importance that you become aware of and fully understand the signs of an opiate drug addiction so that you can obtain expert care and treatment for this serious addiction.
What Are Opiate Drugs?
Opiates, also called in the common vernacular opioids, are drugs that may either be illicit, like heroin or prescribed as certain painkillers. Used within the medical realm, these drugs have pain-relieving properties (an analgesic effect); however, used illicitly, these drugs create a euphoric, or intensely pleasurable, effect. These effects are due to the manner in which the drug binds to the opioid receptors throughout your body. You may be curious to hear why your body has these receptors, and the answer is one that ties closely to the reason why these drugs have such a prevalence of abuse and addiction.
Humans actually have their own naturally occurring opioid compounds within their body, termed endogenous opioids, an example is endorphins, your body’s natural painkillers. These compounds bind to opioid receptor sites. Activated naturally, these are necessary to help your body carry out essential functions, such as breathing, relaxation, fighting pain and feeling pleasure. When you take an opioid drug, the drug attaches to these receptors—when these exogenous opioids perform this task, your body’s endogenous versions no longer have to their full extent. In situations of abuse, when a person uses these drug types in high capacities, the body begins to stop producing their own endogenous versions. This is called a dependency.
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How Does A Dependence Compare To An Addiction?
Dependence does not equal an addiction, however, within an addiction a person will always have a dependence. What this means is, in situations of prescribed us, a person who uses prescription painkillers, even exactly as prescribed, will likely, due to this class of drug’s powerful effects, develop a physical dependence. It is when dependence becomes accompanied by compulsive and chronic patterns of drug-seeking and using that an addiction is present.
Again, a person may become dependent by prescribed use, however, it is when a person deviates from this to abuse, that the risk of addiction rises. Unfortunately, even people with prescriptions for opioid painkillers may become addicted. As a person becomes dependent on a drug, they begin to experience a tolerance—that is, it takes an increasing amount of the drug to achieve the previously desired effect. In either instance—in prescribed or illicit use, this junction can be where addiction begins to take hold.
If a person who has a prescription attempts to alter their dosage on their own to increase the analgesic effect (which constitutes drug abuse) or a person who has been illicitly using opiate painkillers changes their dosage in an attempt to obtain a better high, they could be one step closer to addiction. This can also occur with users of illicit drugs like heroin. Additionally, as your tolerance rises, and abuse continues, the risk of overdose becomes higher. As abuse rises, and your body and brain begin to rely more heavily on the drug, cravings or intense urges of drug-using arise. As a person falls prey to these more and more, and their use becomes compulsive, an addiction is borne.
What Are The Signs Of An Addiction?
In general, any drug addiction will change a person’s behavior in certain ways that speak of drug addiction. Being aware of these signs can help you to better consider your own actions if you are engaged in drug abuse, that way you know when to reach out for help. Or, for family members and loved ones, knowledge of these behaviors can be key to circumventing further risk and damage from occurring, by granting you an opportunity to intervene and seek help.
If a person is addicted to drugs, they may:
- Spend increasing amounts of time alone and act secretive.
- Sleep at odd hours of the day.
- Experience unpredictable mood shifts.
- Forget to groom themselves or take care of their physical appearance.
- Begin to lose interest in things that were previously important to them.
- Experience a compulsion to use the drug on a regular basis, even multiple times a day.
- Find that they are craving the drug.
- Develop tolerance and need more of a drug to create the same euphoric state.
- Begin to let their work, educational or family obligations slip.
- Engage in risky behaviors while under the influence.
- Spend money they don’t have (including money for food or bills) to obtain the drug.
- Do uncharacteristic things to obtain the drug, such as steal or trade sexual favors.
- Spend increasing amounts of time seeking and using the drug.
- Find that they cannot stop using the drug, despite the knowledge of the risks.
- Experience withdrawal, should they suddenly cease using it.
In addition to these behaviors, individuals who are addicted to opioid painkillers may also exhibit certain other signs that are telltale of prescription drug addiction. These include:
- Not being able to produce medical records or information on current or past doctors.
- Going from doctor to doctor, as a means to obtain multiple prescriptions (“doctor shopping”)
- Refusal to undergo certain tests or examinations
- Claiming to “lose” prescription or the actual drugs
- Going to a clinic at the end of the day to try and see the doctor
- Hoarding pills
If you have witnessed even just a handful of these signs, be cautious, as a person may yet be in the early stages of their addiction. If you have any reason to worry, seek help as soon as possible.
Specific Signs Of Opioid Drug Addiction
Every drug of abuse has a different chemical makeup and mechanism of action. Due to this, the way the drug impacts a person and the adverse effects they create, vary. Paired with the aforementioned behavioral cues, these specific physical and physiological, mental and behavioral signs can better assist you in spotting an opiate addiction. If a person is addicted to an opiate, they may manifest certain signs, including:
- Sense of euphoria
- Feeling as if they’re floating
- Slowed or uncoordinated movements
- Drowsiness and decreased energy
- Slurred speech
- Small or pinpoint pupils
- Nodding off
- Nausea or vomiting
- Hypotension (low blood pressure)
- Slowed breathing (depressed respiration)
- Slowed heart rhythm (bradycardia)
- Struggling to concentrate
- Easily distracted
- Inattentive or forgetful
- Mood shifts
- Lack of motivation
- Becoming irritable or agitated
- Inability to make decisions
- Sleeping too little or too less
Exhibiting withdrawal symptoms may be indicative of an addiction, for this reason, it is important to understand what to look for. Signs of opiate withdrawal may include:
- Runny nose
- Teary eyes
- Excess perspiring
- Diarrhea or stomach cramps
- Nausea and vomiting
- Shivering or chills
- Sleeplessness and restlessness
- Muscle and bone aches
Withdrawal can be very uncomfortable, and in some cases, dangerous. A proper medical detox is highly recommended during this time. For that reason, we strongly recommend that you never suddenly stop using an opiate drug, rather, seek trained help prior to discontinuation.
Treating An Opiate Addiction
Though one of the most severe addictions, opiate addiction can be effectively treated. Within this treatment, after the medical detox, a person will experience a variety of effective treatment modalities. Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) may be utilized, which pairs various medications with behavioral therapies, creating a comprehensive approach that combats the physical, physiological, mental, emotional and behavioral aspects of treatment (this treatment may also be used during a medical detox). Either within MAT, or standing alone, these behavioral therapies may include motivational interviewing, cognitive behavioral therapy or dialectical behavioral therapy—powerful tools to help you look inwards, and outwards to your life while developing better-coping skills and positive thoughts, emotions and behaviors. These therapies may also be used to treat co-occurring disorders.
In addition, numerous other affirming and transformative methods will be employed, including counseling, in both individual and group formats; family therapy and support, so that a person’s family can better learn how to support and engage them throughout their recovery; relapse prevention and aftercare support. Together, these modalities come together to offer you, or your loved one, compassionate and directed care that can engage you in breaking negative and damaging behaviors, while instead learning to replace them with positive and lasting ones, so that you can protect your sobriety and have a more fulfilling life.
Helping You Towards Sobriety
If you or someone close to you has abused illicit or medically prescribed opiates to the point of addiction, seek help our help immediately, so that Vertava Health of Massachusetts can help you begin to take steps towards a drug-free life. Contact us today.