Opioid Addiction: Signs and Symptoms
Physicians and practitioners often prescribe opioid pain medication to relieve acute pain from things like surgeries, dental work, and chronic pain. Some popular opioid pain medications include oxycodone (Oxycontin, Percocet), morphine, hydrocodone (Vicodin), methadone, codeine, and dilaudid, among others. While opioid pain medication can be helpful in many cases, misuse of these medications can increase the risk or opioid use disorder. In fact, there were roughly 10.3 million people aged 12 and older who misused opioid painkillers in the past year. In recent years, the opioid crisis has taken a toll on the country, and an average of 130 Americans die every day from an opioid overdose. Still, there are countless individuals who have sought help and successfully overcome opioid addiction. Help is available and getting sober from an opioid addiction is possible.
What Does Opiate Addiction Look Like?
Opioid use disorder is characterized by a physical or mental dependence on opioids. Physical dependence on opioids can happen quickly as the body develops a tolerance, meaning the same initial dose of opioids does not produce as much of an effect. When this happens, more of the drug is needed to feel the same effects. When someone who is physically dependent attempts to reduce their use or is cut off from a prescription, withdrawal symptoms can occur. These can include sweating, cramping, nausea, and/or vomiting. Often, a medical professional’s care is needed to manage these symptoms. Sometimes individuals will continue to use opioids even after their prescription has run out.
Opioid use disorder has physical as well as behavioral side effects. Here are some general signs and symptoms of an opioid use disorder:
- Taking more opiates than prescribed
- Unsuccessful attempts to control or cut down use
- Cravings or strong urges to use
- Decline in school or work performance related to obtaining or using opioids
- “Doctor shopping,” or visiting multiple doctors to receive prescriptions
How to Tell If Someone Has An Opioid Use Disorder
Addiction doesn’t discriminate. Those suffering from opioid use disorder may still hold full-time jobs and fulfill family and social responsibilities. However, over time, chronic use can lead to serious problems and pose dangerous health risks. If you believe that your loved one is suffering with an opioid use disorder, there are signs to look for. These can include include:
- Lifestyle changes like being secretive, neglecting school, work, or other responsibilities
- Unexplained mood swings
- Decreased energy or sudden bursts of energy
- Increased use or drugs or alcohol
- Using another person’s prescription drugs
Dangers of Opioid Addiction
When someone’s tolerance for an opioid increases, it can lead the person to take larger amounts of the opioid to get the same effect or “high.” Taking larger doses can be incredibly dangerous and lead to an accidental overdose, which can be fatal. Overdoses suppress respiration which leads to a lack of oxygen in the brain, thus damaging vital organs. If caught in time, overdoses can be quickly and easily reversed with Naloxone or Narcan. Narcan is extremely safe and has no side effects besides reversing an opioid overdose. It can be obtained easily from most pharmacies. Anyone can administer Narcan.
One of the biggest risks for accidental overdose is if the opioids are unknowingly laced with Fentanyl. Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is 50-100 times stronger than morphine. In recent years there has been an increase in “fake pressed” opioid pills that are laced with Fentanyl. Buying opioid painkillers with unknown origins (i.e. on the street without a prescription) increases risk of getting fake pills that look identical to real pills. If they are laced with Fentanyl, overdose risk is extremely high. Knowing the signs of an overdose can help save a life.
If you or someone you know are currently experiencing signs and symptoms of a drug overdose, call 911 immediately.
Dangers of Quitting Opioids
Quitting opioids cold turkey will likely cause withdrawal symptoms. The duration of use, amount used and frequency of use all impact how severe withdrawal symptoms will be, and they can vary from person to person. Short-acting withdrawal symptoms can be seen within hours of last use, and peak within 1 to 3 days. Those addicted to longer-acting opioids such as extended-release medications can see withdrawal symptoms appear up to 36 hours after the last use and withdrawal symptoms can last over a week.
While opioid withdrawal is not fatal, it can be extremely difficult and uncomfortable. Medical supervision can be helpful when going through withdrawal to ensure a smooth and safe process.
The most effective medication in treating opioid use disorder and preventing overdose related deaths is Suboxone. There is abundant research that supports the use of Suboxone in opioid use disorder treatment. Suboxone should be an available option anywhere opioid use disorder is being treated.
Other medications for opioid use disorder, known as medication assisted treatment, or MAT, include Methadone and Vivitrol.
Getting Sober & Rehab for Opioid Addiction
Getting sober from opioids is possible. When looking at different treatment options, there are a number of medical and behavioral interventions that have been developed to foster long-term recovery from opioid addiction. Medication-assisted treatment, therapy and other behavioral services can all be part of good comprehensive treatment.
Recovery from opioid addiction shouldn’t be a one-size-fits-all approach. There are countless treatment options available, and it’s important that you find the best one that works for you.
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Recovery Resources for Opioid Addiction
Getting sober and staying sober from opioid addiction is a lifelong process. Along with rehab, therapy, and medication-assisted treatment, there are many who have found likeminded people in support groups helpful to help learn how to live life without opioids.
Read Sober Stories from those who have overcome opioid addiction