The Opiate Epidemic is raging in America. With Opiate abuse rates rising in nearly every single demographic group across the country, many people who have never thought that they would find themselves dealing with addiction are. Those who aren’t are beginning to ask themselves, would they know if someone they loved had a problem? With more and more people becoming addicted on a daily basis, it is becoming increasingly important to know the signs of Opiate abuse.

Opiate addiction can affect people in a variety of ways. There are physical changes, emotional and mental changes, and even behavioral changes that may occur as the result of opiate addictions. So, what are the signs?  

Physical Signs of Opiate Abuse

Needless to say, abusing any drug will have a major impact on the body. This is especially true of Opiates, as they can become physically addictive when abused, and they detox symptoms can be extremely severe. In fact, most often it is recommended that an individual who is addicted to opiates should undergo a medically supervised detox to ensure they are safe and stable at all times.

Additionally, certain Opiates including heroin can be used intravenously. Intravenous drug use can lead to a host of serious symptoms in itself, not including the deadly side effects of the drug itself. Some of these include abscess, infection, collapsed veins and death from overdose.  However, there are physical symptoms that appear as the result of using as well and can be an early indicator that a person is having a problem with Opiate abuse. These symptoms include:

  • Constricted Pupils: When a person takes a large amount of Opiates, their pupils will become extremely small. This contraction is often referred to as “pinned” eyes. This reaction occurs as the result of consuming all Opiates, as well as synthetic forms of opioids including prescription painkillers.
  • Itching: Opiate type drugs are known for causing extreme itchiness, especially near the face. It is common to see someone who is abusing Opiates scratching themselves. If you notice someone scratching themselves excessively, it could be a sign that they are abusing Opiates.
  • Falling Asleep: Opiates are Central Nervous System (CNS) Depressants. The slow the heart rate and lower blood pressure, and for this reason, a common side effect of Opiates is drowsiness. However, when a person is abusing Opiates and taking them in large quantities, the effect is increased sharply. As a result, a person who is abusing Opiates will commonly have a hard time staying awake, to the extent that they begin falling asleep even during activity. This is referred to as “nodding out” and is another red flag that the person has a problem.
  • Weight Loss: For many users, Opiates suppress the appetite. Therefore, it is common for those who are abusing Opiates to lose significant weight. The occasional user would not be likely to lose weight like this, as missing the occasional meal wouldn’t have that effect, so if you notice a dramatic drop in weight, the individual may be in a full-blown addiction and using daily. Additionally, taking any drug with a meal will decrease its side effects, and for that reasons a person who is abusing Opiates may choose to skip meals to enjoy a better high.

The Emotional and Mental Symptoms

There are mental and emotional symptoms that are common among addiction, regardless of the substance that is being abused, and there are symptoms that are worsened by Opiates in particular. Opiates change the chemistry of the brain. Opiates create a suddenly and excessive release of dopamine in the brain.

Dopamine is one of two major “feel good” chemicals in the brain, which are responsible for creating stable levels of happiness. The excess amounts of Dopamine released during Opiate use is responsible for the high- a feeling of extreme euphoria. However, when the person uses often or daily, this can throw off the brains ability to regulate itself and can have disastrous effects. Some of the mental and emotional side effects of Opiate abuse include:

  • Depression and Anxiety: though Opiates release Dopamine in the brain, over time, this depletes natural dopamine levels and can cause depression, anxiety, or both. Additionally, Opiate abuse can worsen pre-existing mental health conditions. Whether the condition is new or worsening, if you notice that the person has become depressed or withdrawn, pay close attention.
  • Aggression and Anger: While less common that symptoms of depression or anxiety, some users report feelings of extreme anger while under the influence of Opiates. The cause may be related to the drug lowering the user inhibitions, or with unbalanced chemicals in the brain, but regardless of the cause, if you notice that the person has become angry or violent it could be due to an addiction.
  • Poor Motivation: Because opiates depress the user’s nervous system, they may cause the user to experience low energy levels and lose motivation. This in turn can cause them to experience issues with relationships, school, or work, which may also worsen motivation levels.

Behavioral Signs of Opiate Addiction

Perhaps one of the most notable signs of addiction early on are the behaviors of the person who is using. Almost no one wants the people they care about to know that they’ve gotten involved in illicit and dangerous drug use. Because of this, they will often go to extremes to conceal their behaviors. Additionally, there are behaviors that may crop up as the result of the addiction itself. Some behavioral signs of Opiate addiction include:

  • Sneaking Around: the most common behavior early on is noticing that the person has become sneaky, or very concerned with their privacy suddenly. This could be a sign that they are involved in activities or with people that they do not want others to know about, such as drug abuse.
  • Committing crimes: Opiates, and synthetic Opioid prescription drugs, are illegal to possess without a prescription. If a person is abusing Opiates, it is very likely that they are breaking the law by purchasing them. On top of that, a drug habit is expensive. Add in the possibility that the person does not have a job, or is having a difficult time holding a job, and that becomes a perfect storm for theft. Even driving under the influence of an Opiate drug can lead to a DUI charge.
  • Drug Paraphernalia: Possessing drug paraphernalia is a nearly concrete sign of Opiate abuse. Items such as foil and straws can be used for smoking drugs and viles or small baggies can be used to store it. Finding residue on ID cards or mirrors can be a sign that a person is snorting drugs and finding items such as spoons and needles indicates that the person is using Opiates intravenously.

Facing the possibility that someone you care for is facing an Opiate addiction is scary, however, educating yourself is a valuable step to getting them help. If you suspect that someone is abusing Opiates, there is help available.

Start by speaking with a doctor, therapist, treatment specialist, or even just a trusted friend. This can be a great first step and provide you with the information you need to make a positive and informed decision to help the person get their lives back on track.