Opioid abuse is a serious problem in the United States.
In 2021, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported drug overdose deaths topped 100,000, the highest the US had ever seen. Over two-thirds of those deaths were due to opioids.
It’s important to be able to identify the signs of opioid abuse so that you can get help for yourself or someone you know. In this blog post, we will discuss the signs and symptoms of opioid abuse.
Is There a Difference Between “Opioids” and “Opiates”?
Well … yes and no. Both terms describe drugs and medications derived from opium, a potent narcotic made from the sap of the opium poppy flower.
- “Opiate” is an older term, and specifically describes natural forms of opium, such as codeine, heroin, and morphine.
- “Opioid” is a more common term in modern times and refers to natural, semisynthetic, and synthetic forms of opioids. Synthetic opioids include fentanyl and tramadol; semisynthetic opioids include prescription painkillers such as Oxycodone, hydromorphone, and oxymorphone.
In this blog, we’ll stick with the term “opioid.”
Why are Opioids Addictive?
Opioids produce a sense of euphoria by binding to opioid receptors in the brain and spinal cord. These drugs can be taken orally, inhaled, or injected.
Repeated use of opioids changes the way your brain works. With continued use, you need larger and larger doses to get the same high. This is called tolerance.
People who abuse opioids may also develop physical dependence. This means they feel withdrawal symptoms when they try to quit.
Opioid withdrawal symptoms include:
- Muscle aches
- Nausea and vomiting
- Cold flashes with goosebumps (this is where the phrase “cold turkey” comes from)
The only way to stop withdrawal is to take more opioids. Many drug rehabs use opioid medications to help their patients taper off gradually from opioids. This not only makes withdrawal easier to bear but also reduces some of the complications of opioid withdrawal.
What are the Symptoms of Opioid Abuse?
Opioid abuse can cause a number of physical and psychological symptoms. Unfortunately, many of them are hard to recognize, especially during the early stages of opioid addiction.
Physical symptoms may include:
- Slowed breathing
- Nausea and vomiting
- Small pupils
- Psychological symptoms may include:
- A feeling of euphoria or “high”
- Anxiety or paranoia
- Aggression or irritability
There are also behaviors that can be signs of opioid addiction. These include:
- Taking pain medication in ways not intended by a doctor, such as taking more than the approved dose or taking the medication recreationally
- Mood changes
- Borrowing pain medication from others
- Intentionally losing prescriptions so more prescriptions can be obtained
- Poor decision making
- Trying to get the same pain medication prescription from multiple doctors, aka “doctor shopping”
If you or someone you know is exhibiting any of these symptoms, it’s important to seek help for addiction immediately. Opioid abuse can lead to addiction and opioid overdose, both of which can be deadly.
Who’s at Risk for Opioid Addiction?
Unfortunately, this is a question without a clear answer. Opioid addiction isn’t a moral failing or a sign of weakness; rather, it results from the effects the drugs have on a person’s system.
That being said, there are certain factors that may increase a person’s risk of developing an opioid addiction. These include:
- A family history of addiction
- Chronic pain
- Mental health disorders such as anxiety and depression
- A personal history of drug or alcohol abuse
- Easy access to opioids
How to Get Help for Opioid Addiction
If you or someone you know is struggling with opioid addiction, it’s important to seek professional help. There are many different treatment options available, and the best course of action will vary from person to person.
Some people may benefit from inpatient treatment, where they live at a facility and receive around-the-clock care. Others may do better in an outpatient program, where treatment can be built around their schedule.
It’s worth pointing out that opioid addiction tends to be uniquely destructive even when compared to other addictions. Opioid addiction is often best treated with a stay in a detox program, followed by lengthy periods of inpatient and outpatient addiction care.
Ultimately, opioid addiction is a serious health issue that’s treatable with the right care. One of the best ways to treat opioid addiction is a period of time spent in a sober living home.
How Does a Sober Living Home Help Treat Opioid Addiction?
Sober living homes aren’t addiction centers, although many are connected to them. Rather, they’re places for people in recovery to live while they continue addiction care or get ready to complete a rehab program.
Sober living homes are drug-free places, and this rule is taken extremely seriously. Many sober homes go as far as banning any product which contains alcohol, including mouthwash. This makes relapse and overdoses far less likely.
Living in a sober home is also often safer than returning home during drug treatment. There’s no risk of encountering drug dealers or running into old friends who may not understand a person’s decision to enter treatment or are still involved in drug use.
Also, sober living homes teach (or reinforce) many of the crucial life skills addiction erodes. Opioid addiction isolates a person from their surroundings and causes them to neglect daily responsibilities. Many sober houses require residents to either go to work or actively look for work while living in the house. Sober houses also assign chores to residents as well — everybody chips in to ensure the house is clean and running smoothly. Often, a person coming out of a sober living home after a stay is often better prepared for daily life than the average person is.
Finding a sober home can be a challenge, however.
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