4 Signs of An Opioid Addiction

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 16,000 people were killed by prescription opioid overdoses in 2020. Opioids can be used effectively to relieve pain but they are also dangerous and can cause dependence. If you're concerned by your own opioid use or that of a loved one, read on to learn more about important signs of addiction to look for, and how to get help.

1. Extreme cravings

"While signs of opioid addiction can vary from person to person, a common sign is an extreme craving for the drug," Aaron Sternlicht, Licensed Mental Health Counselor at Family Addiction Specialist, tells WebMD Connect to Care.

A 2019 Frontiers in Psychiatry article states that a craving "is an overwhelming strong desire or need for a drug [and] is a key component of OUD (opioid abuse disorder]"

The need to eat isn't just about a physical or mental desire. Cravings are a significant component of the cycle of drug addiction and are often viewed as the result of the negative effects associated with drug withdrawal symptoms. According to the Mayo Clinic opioid withdrawal symptoms include insomnia, restlessness, sleeplessness, difficult sleeping, rapid heart beat, suicidal thoughts and many other psychological and physical symptoms that may occur when opioids are stopped.

Cravings are such a significant part of opioid addiction that many medications oriented toward quitting opioids focus on cravings. Buprenorphine, and Methadone are both opioid agonists designed to decrease cravings. These medications, when combined with counselling and other intervention can greatly help in the treatment of opioid addiction disorder.

2. Isolation from Social Life

Opioid addiction doesn't just affect you physically-it can affect you socially as well.

"Social cues such as quitting activities with friends can indicate that a loved one is suffering from an opioid addiction," Caroline Carney, MD, psychiatrist and Chief Medical Officer of Magellan Health, tells WebMD Connect to Care.

Of course, many cases of social withdrawal do not necessarily indicate opioid (or another) addiction. However, when combined with other signs and symptoms they could be a sign of addiction.

A journal article published in 2021 in Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience details this further. It states that opioid abuse can cause severe interpersonal problems and lead to isolation that in turn leads to increased opioid misuse.

3. Alternate Brain Activity

"Poor memory and concentration can be a sign of opioid addiction," Carney says. Other symptoms of altered brain activity that can suggest opioid addiction include lessened sex drive, drowsiness, and changes in sleep patterns, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine.

According to the American Society of Anesthesiologists, opioids attach to opioid receptors at different locations in the body. This includes the brain. These drugs prevent the brain from receiving pain messages.

Opioids may cause euphoric feelings in some people. People who use opioids might try to increase their experiences by using other drugs than prescribed. Repeated use of opioids can cause brain dysfunction, leading to inability or inability to focus.

Mayo Clinic says that other cognitive symptoms, such as mood swings or poor decision-making patterns, can also indicate changes due to opioid abuse.

It is vital to note that mental disorders such as depression and anxiety can also be identified in patients with substance abuse disorder. There are many risk factors that can lead to the co-morbidity of mental illness and substance use disorders.

4. Weight Loss

"People addicted to opioids can experience physical symptoms like weight loss," Sternlicht says.

Even when the dose is normal, a common side effect with opioids such as painkillers is decreased appetite. A severe reduction in appetite can result from taking opioids too frequently or excessively. This could lead to weight loss.

Also, a marked and sudden change in eating habits can itself be a sign of opioid addiction.

Other Signs of an Opioid Addiction

Opioid addiction can present differently in different individuals, and no two cases are necessarily the same. You may see some signs in one person but not in others.

That said, in addition to the signs above, several other identifiers of opioid addiction may be present, such as:

Seeking pain medication prescriptions from multiple doctors Using pain medications prescribed to others Taking prescribed opioids even when not in pain Extreme mood swings Changes in sleep patterns The presence of multiple signs in combination can suggest that an individual is dealing with opioid addiction.

How Does an Opioid Addiction Start?

There are a number of signs that can precede opioid addiction, as well as risk factors that may make a given individual more likely to develop opioid use disorder. The risk factors will help you make an informed decision about the health of your loved ones and yourself.

According to the Mayo Clinic, risk factors for opioid addiction include:

All of these factors may make someone more likely to use opioids. These can be risks factors for substance abuse in other forms.

What to Do if You Suspect an Opioid Addiction

If a loved one is exhibiting multiple signs of opioid addiction, and you suspect opioid use disorder, it is important to create a plan of action. The best chance of recovery is to have the support and love of family and friends.

According to Lisa Curtis of WebMD Connect to Care, the best way to help a loved person approach someone they suspect is to show love, compassion, and a sense of expectations. It is perfectly normal to tell someone you love them that your addiction to pain medication is causing problems. "I know that you are suffering from some issues, but it is time to have a conversation with your doctor.

The conversation can be difficult. Curtis states that while the initial reaction will likely be defensive on most occasions, repeated messages over the course of several weeks will usually result in an openness to the idea of working together, if only to silence the conversation.

Speaking to a doctor or counselor experienced in treating addiction is important, as he or she can help you assess the degree of addiction and come up with a responsible plan. You must be patient and supportive of your loved one throughout this process.

It is also important to remember that having a loved one dealing with opioid addiction can take a heavy, personal toll. You should take some time to yourself and get additional support when needed.

"If your loved one has an opioid addiction, going to different support groups and seeking therapy for yourself can help you recognize that you did not cause their addiction," Ziskind says. "It can be incredibly painful loving someone who is an addict or who chooses drugs over family and friends."

While an opioid addiction can take a heavy toll on a family or social group, with support and consistent intervention, it can be effectively treated.