How to Recognize Signs of Opiate Addiction in Yourself or Others
Addiction to opiates (painkillers, pain pills, heroin) can be deadly and can damage a person's relationships, finances and reputation beyond repair. We will outline the ways that a person usually develops an opiate addiction as well as symptoms of both use and withdrawal from opiates. This information can help you make informed decisions before taking a prescribed pain medication and also may help you recognize the signs of opiate addiction in others.
How does a person find themselves addicted to opiates? There are many possibilities, but a common route is simply by obtaining a prescription from a doctor for relief of pain following an injury. Although heroin is part of the same chemical family as most modern pain medications, actual prescribed painkillers are responsible for most new and ongoing opiate addictions today. Prescription medications are much easier to obtain and sell or otherwise divert; they also carry less risk. The market demand is high and getting higher - pun intended.
When a person begins taking opiates they quickly develop tolerance and the need for more medication to produce the same relief or "good" feelings. Simply put, dosages must be increased to remain effective. As the amount increases, so eventually does the tolerance and dependence easily occurs.
The path to addiction begins with use, progresses to dependence and abuse. With enough abuse, a person will almost certainly develop an addiction. These are definitely different points on the continuum, so we will briefly describe each phase.
Use of opiates is defined as simply using a medication as prescribed for the intended time period.
Abuse is defined as using more medication than prescribed, taking the medication more frequently than prescribed, using the medication to produce a "high" feeling rather than for relief of pain and using a prescription that does not belong to you.
Dependence is a little more serious. With continued use or abuse comes tolerance (the need for more) and dependence. A person is dependent on a substance when they need it to feel "normal" and perform normal activities of their daily life.
The final stage of this process is a full-blown addiction. A person who is addicted cannot be without the drug. They will develop symptoms of withdrawal and begin to show signs of an unmanageable life. The addicted person is no longer in control of the habit and is unable to make decisions regarding the use. They must use the drug in order to live.
Symptoms of opiate use include some objective signs that you can recognize if you observe closely.
Changes in mood: euphoria, sedation, confusion and irritability are common.
Nausea and vomiting
Respiratory depression (shallow or slow breathing)
Constricted or pinpoint pupils (in a softly lit room)
Signs of opiate withdrawal are almost completely opposite of the signs of use. The mood is anxious rather than sedate and euphoric; constipation becomes diarrhea, vomiting and appetite loss. The nervous system is highly sensitive rather than numbed and the person may feel as if they have the flu with body aches, chills, goose bumps, sweating and tremors. If you believe that you have noticed symptoms of addiction, look for signs of withdrawal as well. The withdrawal from opiates is very uncomfortable and hard to hide. Anyone addicted to opiates will almost certainly display signs of withdrawal (within 24 hours) when the drug is not available.