Warning Signs of Opioid Abuse

Written By : Shelley Lewis RD, LD, CDE   ✓ Fact Checked

If you or your loved one might be suffering from opioid abuse, then read on to find out common signs of opioid abuse and what steps to take.

(Last Updated on May 3, 2024)

When talking about opioid addiction, it’s impossible to name only one cause. They can range from physical pain to psychological motives. In addition, the accessibility of opioids (especially on the black market) is one of the leading reasons for the widespread opioid crisis. However, there are noticeable signs of opioid abuse. Thanks to the following guide our team prepared for you, you’ll know how to help someone that requires professional intervention.

Signs of opioid abuse are easily recognizable

Addiction to opioids shows through several noticeable physical, psychological, and psychosocial symptoms. They often go hand in hand, so it’s not difficult to recognize them. Opioids belong to the list of highly-addictive substances. They provide short-term pain relief and develop dependency at the same time.

#1 Impaired cognitive functions

Due to highly sedating properties, opioids may significantly impact brain function. Prolonged opioid abuse results in myriad issues, such as:

  • Problems with short-term memory.
  • Lack of concentration on daily tasks.
  • Difficulty in learning new things.

Due to these symptoms, a person abusing opioids often becomes restless and has trouble staying organized. They might also begin to procrastinate on their duty.

A young woman demonstrating signs of opioid abuse
Opioids have adverse effects on overall well-being.

#2 Physical symptoms

The following physical symptoms are telling signs a person may suffer from negative signs of opioid abuse:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Dizziness
  • Dry mouth
  • Impaired motor skills
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea
  • Rapid weight loss

Higher dosages of sedatives also adversely affect one’s energy levels. It, therefore, becomes challenging to perform daily chores.

#3 Poor hygiene

Self-neglect, in general, is a sign of any significant addiction, and individuals with addiction to prescription opioids aren’t an exception. They often struggle to maintain basic hygiene. Patchy skin, greedy hair, teeth staining, and unpleasant body odors are telltale signs that something isn’t right. Sedative properties in opioids make a person too tired to even shower and brush their teeth.

#4 Making excuses to get more opioids

Let’s say a person you know takes painkillers (oxycodone or similar medication) due to sports injury. After a while, they begin to ask for a higher dosage, claiming they’re in pain. Furthermore, they resort to frequent lying about the dosage of a prescribed opioid to their family and doctors. It’s not a rarity for them to ask those with a prescription to get them more medications. If you notice this pattern of behavior in someone you know, it’s time to intervene together with their close family members.

Keep in mind that individuals with a severe addiction to substances turn to the black market. This is mostly because the prices of smuggled or stolen painkillers and tranquilizers are lower than in pharmacies.

#5 Noticeable depressive disorder

If a person already struggles with depression, opioid abuse can exacerbate it. Self-medication among individuals suffering from major depressive disorder is more common than not. By doing so, they wish to escape the daily lethargy, sadness and numb the negative mental chatter.

#6 Difficulty in managing anxiety

Anxiety disorder and opioid abuse often go hand in hand. It’s noticeable among individuals with a severe anxiety disorder who resort to self-medication in order to cope with daily challenges. Soon they develop a physical and psychological dependency to the point they can’t imagine going about their day without opioids.

#7 Sudden emotional outbursts

Another sign that a person might have developed a severe addiction to opioids is the change in emotional response. If someone you know acts out of the blue and displays frequent irritability, substance abuse might be the reason. Opioids affect the brain, making it difficult for a person to manage their emotions.

#8 Problems with a sleep schedule

A disrupted sleep schedule is also the outcome of opioid abuse. The person who abuses opioids can have problems with continuous sleepiness and yet feel tired after waking up. The drugs also interfere with REM sleep.

A tired barista
Constant sleepiness and lack of energy are one of the signs of opioid abuse.

#9 Lifestyle changes

All previously-mentioned symptoms indicate a significant change in lifestyle in a person who abuses opioids. However, if a person used to lead a healthy and active lifestyle, the before and after difference will be a lot clearer.

Opioid rehab is the solution

Once an individual stops using opioids, the withdrawal symptoms begin shortly after. They are often too excruciating to handle, both physiologically and mentally. This is why the best solution is to turn to licensed experts working at specialized rehab facilities. The treatments provided at special rehab centers can help an individual break free from addiction to opioids and change their lives. Opioid rehab involves:

  • Special medical detox – The staff at a rehab facility administers it. It frees the body from the substances and prepares the individual for the next stage.
  • Specific psychotherapy – If a patient struggles with a co-occurring mental disorder, they will be assigned an addiction psychiatrist to tailor a specific plan. This is called Dual Diagnosis, a successful way of treating addiction to opioids and mental disorders simultaneously. Other methods applied in addiction recovery are Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Dialectical Behavioral Therapy.
  • Pharmacotherapy – It depends on whether the patient’s condition will be mandatory.
  • Aftercare – The last stage of recovery is also the most challenging. The recovering individual must cope with different triggers and bounce back from temptations to start using opioids again. This is why Aftercare treatment helps people navigate the post-rehab period thanks to regular psychotherapy and the application of a relapse prevention strategy.
Smiling doctor.
Licensed experts at rehab centers help patients overcome opioid addiction.

Final words

When you recognize these common signs of opioid abuse, it’s easier to help the person in need.The root cause of every addiction is mainly psychological, which is why the solution is to seek help from addiction experts. Fortunately, today’s rehab centers deploy a variety of medical and supplementary therapies that help those who suffer from opioid addiction establish a new life on a healthier basis.

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