For the past several years, the country as a whole has been in the midst of a major opioid epidemic. There are over 200,000 documented cases of opiate addiction in the US on an annual basis; however, rates of abuse are significantly higher, and continue to grow on a near daily basis. In 2015, a total of 519,000 Americans struggles with a substance abuse disorder involving heroin, while over 2 million struggled with prescription painkiller abuse. The American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) estimates that roughly 23 percent of individuals who use heroin will eventually develop a life-threatening addiction. In 2015, there were 52,404 reported cases of lethal, drug-related overdose. Of these drug-related overdose deaths, a staggering 12,990 were directly linked to heroin, and an even larger amount – 20,101 – were traced back to prescription painkillers.
Painkiller Abuse and Addiction
Despite recent government crackdowns on painkiller prescribing and distribution, painkiller-related overdose remains the leading cause of accidental death in the US. Because painkillers are frequently prescribed by medical professionals, many believe that they cannot cause significant harm. Of course, abusing any controlled substance (whether it was initially prescribed or not), can lead to a host of serious issues – emotional, mental, and physical. The CDC recently estimated that over 12 million Americans have used prescription painkillers for nonmedical reasons within the past year. Clearly, this is an issue that needs to be adequately addressed – both on a national level and on a personal level. Personal in the sense that the majority of individuals who begin abusing painkillers initially obtain them from close friends or family members. In order to continue combating this devastating, nationwide epidemic, we must begin taking preventative measures within our own households.
Opiate Addiction – Signs and Symptoms
It can be somewhat difficult to determine whether or not a loved one is grappling with a substance dependency issue, especially when the substance is one that can essentially be hidden in plain sight. The majority of Americans have medicine cabinets, many fully stocked with small orange bottles of expired or unused prescriptions. However, there are several major signs and symptoms to look for in loved ones that you believe may be struggling with opiate abuse.
Fatigue and drowsiness
One of the most obvious signs of an opiate abuse disorder is increased drowsiness, or a severe lack of energy. Those who are in the midst of a serious opiate addiction may look drowsy all of the time; their eyelids may droop, and it may appear as if they are constantly on the verge of falling asleep. Look for this pattern throughout the day, for multiple days in a row.
A lack of motivation
Those who are struggling with opiate abuse or addiction will become preoccupied with obtaining and using their drug of choice. They will become disinterested in extracurricular activities, schoolwork, and career objectives. The ability to concentrate will be diminished, and productivity will suffer – either at school or at work. If you notice a significant decline in your loved one’s performance (increased sick days, unexplained absences, failing grades, missed deadlines), it may be due to a substance use disorder.
Changes in appearance
While it can be difficult to tell whether or not someone is high on opiates by merely looking at them, there are some physical signs and symptoms that may make detecting an underlying issue a bit easier. Pupils will be constricted, and eyelids may appear heavy or drooping. The skin may be itchy, and speech may be slurred. When an individual is experiencing painkiller withdrawal, he or she may have a runny nose, yawn excessively, visit the bathroom frequently, or complain about joint and muscle pain and insomnia.
Changes in social behavior
An individual who is struggling with an opiate addiction will find it difficult to maintain healthy, interpersonal relationships. He or she may begin avoiding social contact, making excuses to get out of plans or avoiding family time. Individuals who are addicted to painkillers will often avoid their old friends and begin spending time alone, or spending time with people who engage in similarly self-destructive behaviors.
An increase in time spent alone
Increased secrecy is one of the most telltale signs of opiate abuse, seeing as those who are abusing opiates are often obtaining them illegally, and fear undergoing interpersonal consequences if their struggle is found out. When dealing with young adults, parent are encouraged to look into potential slang terms and code words, such as “hydros” (hydrocodone) and “oxys” (oxycodone).
If you or someone you love has been struggling with opiate abuse, there is help available. It is often recommended that an individual struggling with any severe substance abuse disorder receive long-term, professional treatment – often at an inpatient addiction treatment center. Because prescription painkillers are so highly addictive, and because many individuals who begin abusing painkillers eventually progress to intravenous heroin use, inpatient treatment is highly recommended. For more information on potential programs of opiate addiction recovery, please contact us today.