Opioid abuse: signs and symptoms – a hard pill to swallow
BY TARA YOMBOR
Identifying the signs of opioid abuse may be difficult as typically the loved one of an addict does not want to acknowledge the signs of addiction. Living in denial can be easy and the reality that someone you love is abusing opioids can be heartbreaking and overwhelming. Also, each person can show signs of addiction differently. Some may isolate, become angry or hostile. Others who have built a stronger dependence for the drug may physically need the substance in order to act as what we would consider to be “normal.”
Opioids (narcotics) are a type of pain relieving drug either prescribed by a doctor or bought off the street. Some of these pain relievers include Oxycodon, Roxicet, Hydrocodone, Fentanyl, Tramadol, Methadone, and Dilaudid. Most addicts who begin their addiction through doctor prescribed opioids, typically transition to synthetic street drugs, such as heroin, due to cost.
Behavioral symptoms of opioid abuse include frequent visits to doctors (known as “doctor shopping”), decreased performances at work or school, isolation, lack of interest in activities, ignoring responsibilities, avoidance of eye contact and communication, irritability, defensiveness, and anger outbursts.
If you suspect someone you care about is abusing opioids, trust your instinct.
Physical symptoms include slowed motor movements, lethargic behavior, or nodding in and out of alertness (often referred to as “the nod”). Physical withdrawal symptoms manifest as chills, body aches, muscle pains, anxiety, vomiting, or diarrhea. Some persons with these symptoms may claim they have the flu to deter loved ones from questioning their withdrawal symptoms.
Cognitive symptoms include depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts, or self-injurious acts (i.e. cutting, burning, or scratching of the skin). Memory impairment and lack of attention are other symptoms.
If you suspect someone you care about is abusing opioids, trust your instinct. Often we make excuses to justify that person’s behavior. Compassionately confront them about their change in behavior and let them know you are there to help. Do not shame or judge them for their addiction; more than likely, they are already shaming and judging themselves.
Contact a substance abuse treatment center for options and how they can be of assistance. There are interventionists and therapists who can assist you and your family with getting your loved one into treatment. Psychology Today is an online resource to find local therapists in your area. The sooner you are able to address their addiction, the better chance they have for a lifetime of recovery.
12-step programs such as Alanon, Naranon, and Families Anonymous are available at no cost for loved ones of addicts to find support, gain insight into addiction, and learn how to set boundaries.
Know you are not alone. You are one of over two million people with a loved one struggling with an opioid addiction. There is hope and a better way of life is possible.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Tara Yombor, LMHC received her BA in Psychology from Michigan State University and her Masters in Mental Health Counseling from Nova Southeastern University. She has been working in the substance abuse field for over 10 years in various capacities. Tara began her career as an intern at a treatment center for pregnant women in Boulder, CO and is now the Clinical Director of Pathway to Hope a Delphi Behavioral Health Group facility in Ft. Lauderdale, FL.