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How to Spot the Most Common Signs of Opiate Use and Addiction

It doesn’t matter if you’re struggling with opiate use yourself or watching a loved one suffer from afar, opiate use and addiction can be tough to recognize. While the signs of opiate use may be there, but admitting there is a problem may not come as easily as one would hope.

People who have become dependent on drugs may not even realize they are addicted because they are still able to function in their day-to-day lives. Addiction looks different for everyone, but there are a few telltale signs of opiate addiction that you can look out for if you are concerned.

Think about when someone you are close to is in a bad mood. It’s easy to tell almost instantly that something is visibly wrong, without them having to say a word. Someone addicted to drugs has that same type of “cloud” hanging over their head all the time, a sign of addiction. The Mayo Clinic notes that common symptoms of opiate use to look out for include physical changes, such as:

  • Confusion;
  • Constricted pupils;
  • Slowed breathing;
  • Loss of consciousness or intermittent nodding off; and
  • Outward euphoria or drowsiness.

These symptoms are indicative of a drug abuse problem, especially when paired with evidence of drug paraphernalia (pipes, needles, syringes, etc). If you’ve ever noticed a drastic change in behavior or describe someone you know well as having “high highs” and “low lows,” while there may be a number of factors at play opiate abuse can have a significant impact.

Other signs of drug abuse may include social withdrawal, consistent trouble at work or school, sudden financial problems, or an attempt to receive multiple prescriptions from multiple doctors. There are noticeable shifts in behavior and specific actions that reveal a possible problem. It’s better to address it head on with concern rather than trying to brush it under the rug as if it doesn’t exist.

What Drugs Fall Into the Opiate Category?

Opioids are more commonly known as painkillers. They’re prescribed to reduce intense pain, typically from a surgical procedure. Medications that fall within the opiate category include hydrocodone, oxycodone, morphine, and codeine. Recognized brand names include Vicodin, OxyContin, and Percocet.

Opioid addiction is all too real and affects millions of lives daily. It may happen more often than you think. It’s become a national epidemic and surpasses many stereotypes society may have about drug abuse before. The truth is that the American Society of Addiction Medicine reported nearly 2 million of the people with a substance abuse disorder suffer from addiction to prescription pain relievers. And well over 500,000 people face a drug addiction involving heroin.

Heroin abuse, specifically, has been a rising problem over the past few years. Due to how it is administered, heroin brings an additional set of risks to those typical of opioid use. Since heroin is often administered by needle, it leaves room for blood-borne diseases such as HIV/AIDS and hepatitis to occur. Shared or dirty needs are common among heroin abusers and can easily transmit these life-threatening diseases.

The use of this drug is not found solely in the inner cities as was once recognized, but has infiltrated into the suburbs and has made a significant impact on young adults. Why? Heroin has become easier to come by and is cheaper than prescription medications.  

How Does Opiate Addiction Occur?

It can be hard to understand how those being prescribed painkillers by their doctor can quickly quick turn into such a strong addiction. The first thing to consider is the potency of painkillers. They are usually prescribed with the intention to alleviate pain and discomfort for people who are post-surgery, experiencing chronic pain, or are recovering from an injury. They are to be administered in a way as approved by a medical professional due to the addictive nature of the drugs being prescribed.  

The dosage of any drug is important as well as how often the drug is taken. If someone goes off schedule from the prescription, a variety of problems can occur including overdose and death. Over time people’s tolerance to the prescription can build up leading their doctor to up their dosage to ensure the same pain relief. On the other side of the coin, when one pill no longer relieves their pain, people often take matters into their own hands and take the drugs as often as they feel necessary. This behavior easily leads down a road of addiction because the body becomes more immune to the effects of the drug. Meaning over time, it takes more of it to feel the effects.

Where the drug may have once alleviated pain, it may not do the trick anymore when it’s being abused. The body begins to adapt, and the drug can become stored within the body as the user continues to take more and more. Because of this, it’s easier to form a chemical dependency. Unfortunately, dependency often leads to addiction.

Opiate Side Effects

There are quite a few side effects a person might experience from taking opiates. Opiate side effects range anywhere from dizziness to vomiting to sedation to respiratory depression. Two of the most common side effects are constipation and nausea, which are unpredictable and depend on the severity of the situation.

One of the biggest risks of continuous opiate use is an accidental overdose. This can happen just as easily with a first time user as it can to someone who has been abusing drugs for years. Accidental overdose occurs in thousands of people every year with most of the cases being fatal. Even if this does not occur, there are still several serious events that can happen including such as a stroke, heart attack, or coma.

Signs of Opiate Withdrawal

Just as each addiction story is different, so is the withdrawal experience. Several factors are accounted for to determine how severe withdrawal may be. For example, how long a person has been using opiates, how much they use, how often, and other basic health factors all come into play.

Early symptoms of opiate withdrawal commonly occur within the first 24-48 hours after the last dosage and include:

  • Muscle aches;
  • Restlessness;
  • Anxiety;
  • A runny nose;
  • Excessive sweating; and
  • Insomnia.

A few of these initial symptoms aren’t much different than having a bad case of the flu, but they are often followed by more intense symptoms such as diarrhea, vomiting, rapid heartbeat, and dilated pupils. The level of pain and discomfort range from person to person. But if you are a friend or family member of someone you think has been using, it’s a good idea to keep an eye on these types of opiate addiction symptoms.

People usually don’t stay in the withdrawal phase for long, since their bodies are dependent on the drugs, which is why it’s best to have assistance. There’s little that can be done without medical supervision to help alleviate the pain as the drug is working itself out of the system. Withdrawal and detox are not fun by any means, which is why many people who try to go it alone relapse. However, detoxing under the care and supervision of trained professionals can make you as comfortable and safe as possible.

Additionally, babies who are born addicted to opiates because their mothers used drugs during pregnancy may also experience harsh withdrawal symptoms, which may include digestive problems, dehydration, vomiting, or seizures. A baby barely has time to build up the immune system against common germs or diseases much less the stress on the body that comes from drug withdrawal.

There’s no way to pinpoint a specific time when drugs will be fully out of your system. It all depends on the type of drug, the frequency of use, and the level of addiction. For example, an otherwise healthy person who has taken unprescribed amounts of opiates for several days in a row may be able to rid the body of the drug faster than someone in poor health who has been abusing drugs for years.

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How Long Does Opiate Withdrawal Last?

Although many opiate withdrawal timelines are similar, there is no one specific marked time, but rather a range of what to expect. How long does opiate withdrawal last? Typically, opiate withdrawal can occur anywhere from 12-30 hours after the last use. But it depends on the level of addiction, a person’s overall health, last opiate use, and an array of other determining factors.

The first days of opiate withdrawal are the most painful and uncomfortable, but with time, symptoms subside. It’s not uncommon for individuals to start using again during the first few days of withdrawal because the symptoms are so severe. Complete withdrawal may take several days and possibly weeks to take place.

This difficulty is one of the many reasons why it’s highly recommended to undergo drug withdrawal and detox in a medically supervised rehabilitation center. Not only does it help protect a person’s safety, but it gives medical staff the opportunity to monitor a person’s overall health and aid them through the rough times of opiate withdrawal.

Certain treatment methods may permit a doctor to prescribe medication to help ease the symptoms of the withdrawal process. Naloxone is often used in monitored facilities to reduce symptoms. Naltrexone is used to reverse and treat overdose for heroin addicts specifically, and buprenorphine is administered to help prevent relapse during the detox period.

When it comes to understanding the withdrawal process, it’s important to remember that the body is now dependent on the drug to function normally. While it’s easier to tell someone to “just quit” or think that you can quit whenever you decide it’s unfortunately not as easy as simply stopping opiate use. With the way that opiates change the physiological makeup of the body and brain going through withdrawal can trigger strong, often violent, reactions after having become physically dependent on opiates.

Withdrawal is not something anyone should have to go through alone. In addition to the medical supervision that is called for, stable, emotional support is required as well for long-term sobriety. Often, this means the individual should be removed from his or her normal environment because it may hold temptations the person is not strong enough to face and cope with yet. It’s not the same for every situation, but finding a healthy space with healthy support is a top priority.

Addiction is a disease and has to be treated as such in order to heal. Although there are different facets of the condition that are dangerous to the body, it is not something that should be taken lightly. It’s important to seek help and get the support needed for a successful recovery.

Seeking Help for Opiate Use and Addiction

Do you feel like a loved one may be exhibiting opiate addiction symptoms? Has a family member confronted you about a drug problem? Whatever the case may be, it’s important to understand and find comfort in the fact that there is help available whenever you need it.

The first step is recognizing the problem and the need to change it. It won’t happen overnight, and it may not happen as quickly as you’d like. Sobriety requires a lifetime commitment to abstinence from drug use.

To start anew with this lifestyle requires support. Sobriety isn’t only about getting clean from drug use. It’s about recognizing temptations and learning healthy ways to cope with them. To help move forward it’s important to identify the underlying causes of substance abuse, which can include mental or physical health conditions. Addicts who enter a detox and recovery treatment program most likely will be required to participate in counseling of some sort.

This may occur in a group setting with other people that are battling addiction or in one-on-one sessions with a psychiatrist or other medical professional. There is also the choice between inpatient and outpatient care depending on the preference of the person seeking treatment.

Some may find solace in getting away from their current environment to truly concentrate on their sobriety without interruption. Others may feel the need to be closer to home and have the support of their friends and family to successfully go through recovery.

The most important thing to remember is there is help. Treatment will help you understand your opiate addiction and what may trigger use, in order to find ways to cope in the future. By facing addiction head on, there is a chance for a healthier life on a new path. Choose a program that works best for you.

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