Opioid Abuse: Knowing the Symptoms and Signs of Prescription Drug Abuse

hands holding variety of pills

One of the most common forms of drug abuse in the United States isn’t an illegal drug.

Rather, it’s prescription pain relievers that contain opioids. Opioids are powerful, addictive substances that can be easy to obtain. Fentanyl, one of the strongest and most worrisome of the drugs abused, is still one of the most important types of pain relievers for those suffering from significant pain. While we cannot remove this drug (and its synthetic forms) from use, we can learn about them and how to spot signs of addiction.

About 2.1 million people in the United States use and abuse opioids. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention note that most overdose deaths in the U.S. involve an opioid and these deaths have grown over time. From 2000 through 2015, over 500,000 people have died from drug overdose and 91 people die every day in the country from this prescription drug.

What Prescription Pain Medications Are Abused?

Many opioid-based medications exist. Some of the most common include the following:

  • Hydrocodone (sometimes mixed with acetaminophen and sold as Lortab or Vicodin)
  • Codeine, a medication given for chronic and severe coughing
  • Oxycodone, perhaps one of the most frequently discussed, often sold in the form of OxyContin, Percocet, Endocet, Percodan, and Roxicet
  • Morphine
  • Meperidine, often sold as Demerol
  • Dilaudid, also known as hydromorphone

These drugs are highly regulated in terms of prescriptions. It is not uncommon for an individual to be given any of them in a hospital setting after a surgery, treatment, or injury. Those suffering from chronic pain may receive a prescription from their doctor as well. Sometimes, illegal access occurs when pills are sold on the street. In all situations, these drugs are highly addictive and life-threatening when taken inappropriately.

What Does a Person High on Opioids Look Like?

Individuals intoxicated on opiates will likely display several signs. These range based on the drug itself as well as on the amount of the chemical ingested:

  • Breathing slows.
  • Pupils are constricted.
  • Mood swings are common.
  • A person is typically less social, removing him or herself from situations.
  • Sleepiness and difficulty staying awake are common. Sometimes, they may simply fall asleep.
  • Nausea occurs, often a feeling of being sick to the stomach. Vomiting is common.
  • Many people struggle to remember things. They cannot concentrate on tasks.
  • Depression and feelings of being sad are common.
  • Movements are slow. Reactions are slow.

All of these symptoms create a situation of high risk. The heart rate slows, breathing slows, and the body can begin to simply stop functioning as it should.

What Changes in a Person’s Life When They Use Opioids?

Opioid misuse does not take long to start impacting a person’s life (and eventually the entire family’s life). When a prescription runs out, an addicted person may try switching doctors or buying the drugs illegally. Generally, some of the first signs of misuse of this drug are physical evidence, such as any signs that a person has been crushing pills, snorting them, rolling dollar bills or other papers, and using small mirrors to do so. Some will inject using syringes while others will smoke it using pipes. Look for any evidence of this paraphernalia.

Misuse can quickly progress into dire, life-changing situations. Users begin to spend their savings on drugs and supplies for them. They think about the drug often, often struggling to think of anything other than when their next dose is. Many people misusing opioids will neglect daily activities, employment, schooling, and social relationships. Some may be tempted to perform illegal activities in order to obtain enough money to buy more drugs. Physically, the appearance changes as well. The user may be less likely to groom themselves; they may become very thin from not providing nutrients to the body, and their eyes may become sunken in.

Remember, many people who are abusing opioids began by simply taking the pills as prescribed; as the body adjusts to the opioid level, it requires more of the drug to ease pain. The user becomes dependent, and if they aren’t careful, this dependence can escalate into addiction. When a prescription runs out, the addicted person may begin “doctor shopping” to access more prescriptions—or resort to buying the drugs illegally from a dealer.

How Do You Know When Your Loved One Needs Professional Help?

Whether opioids are consuming your loved one’s daily life or they simply seem to be taking pills too frequently, you do have reason to worry. Many people addicted to this drug can operate at a near-normal level from day-to-day, allowing them to maintain a small, comfortable high throughout the workday. However, most opioid use only worsens. That means that addiction recovery obtained as soon as possible is generally best. Consider the following questions. If your loved one is struggling with addiction or you believe he or she may be, contact The Ranch at Dove Tree for immediate help.

  • Does your loved one talk about or seek out pain medications on a frequent basis?
  • Is this person struggling financially, potentially due to drug use?
  • Is the individual pulling away from social interactions and activities he or she once enjoyed?
  • Is there evidence of neglect of the person’s own health, that of the children, or the home?
  • Has an overdose occurred?
  • Does the individual claim to be tired all of the time, perhaps even napping often?
  • Do they struggle to remember things, concentrate on actions, or otherwise seem to be unmotivated to function?

These are all key signs of opioid addiction. Often starting with a simple pain prescription, this type of addiction tends to rapidly expand until it becomes all-consuming, impacting every facet of a person’s life. Soon, the addiction not only impacts the user’s life, but also their family, friends, and work relationships. Nothing is more important than the next pill.

Unfortunately, an addicted person cannot just stop the body’s demand for more opioids. Taking the pills away is not enough. A safe, medical detox is essential in this situation as it provides a foundation for successfully removing the chemical from the body so true recovery can begin.

At The Ranch at Dove Tree, we provide detoxification from opioids as well as short and long-term recovery treatment. To consult with us about drug and alcohol treatment, please contact us immediately.

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Understanding the Epidemic. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Prescription Opioids. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Opioid Overdose Crisis. National Institute on Drug Abuse.
Opioid Abuse and Addiction. Medline Plus.