Opioids Abuse Symptoms & Signs

Generally speaking, opioids are narcotic medications that relieve pain. These painkillers work by interfering with the transmission of the pain signal to the brain and changes the way the brain perceives pain. Depending on how they are manufactured these drugs can be short-acting or long-acting and vary in strength. Some of the most commonly used opioids include OxyContin, Percocet, codeine, morphine, and hydrocodone. Opioids are some of the most commonly prescribed medications used for the treatment of pain and are considered relatively safe if taken directly as prescribed, but if abused can lead to an addiction. Opioids are typically prescribed by doctors to prevent pain, sleep problems, and in some cases cure diarrhea. These drugs work by binding to the natural opiate receptors in the brain and then imitate the specific chemicals that are related to sensations of pain relief, pleasure, and reward. Additionally, these medications have a relaxing effect that can lead to drowsiness, mental confusion, and depressed respiration.

Even when taken as prescribed however, the potential for abuse and addiction is high. Because these drug also have positive psychological properties they are commonly abused. Some individuals become addicted to the feelings of well-being and emotional numbing that these narcotics produce. Over time repeated use of opioids can lead to physical dependence and psychological addiction can result in as little as two days and treatment may be necessary to detox safely. When an individual becomes addicted to an opioid, they will have a strong urge to use the drug and often continues to use despite the negative consequences that are going on around them and may need to seek treatment options.

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Statistics

In the United States, adults age 18 and over have a prevalence rate of opiate use disorder at about .37%.  This rate is likely an underestimate, as many individuals who are abusing opiates are often incarcerated. Gender differences are shown with a male prevalence rate of .49%, while only .26% of females use. For legally prescribed narcotics, prevalence rates in men are only one and a half times the rates in women, while men abuse heroin three times as much as women. The lowest prevalence rates are found in those over the age of 64 (.09%), while the highest rates occur in those under the age of 30 (.29 %).

Causes of Opiate Addiction

There is no direct evidence supporting an individual cause to explain any specific substance abuse disorder.  However, research has supported links between certain factors and the subsequent development of substance related problems.

Genetic: We are all products of our parents and if you have a parent who has struggled with an addiction you are going to be more susceptible to developing an addiction. It also seems there are some potential causes that may be related to genetic influences. For example, temperamental qualities are thought to be inborn and have been linked to an increased risk for opiate addiction.

Physical: When abused, opioids cause the pathways inside the brain to be changed. Cells in the brain communicate with each other release neurotransmitters into the synapses between nerve cells causing an addiction to develop.

Environmental: Individuals who are exposed to certain environmental factors are at a greater risk for using substances and becoming addicted. Certain environmental factors such as domestic abuse, lower socio-economic status, peers that do drugs, or experiencing a traumatic event can all lead to the development of substance abuse problems, which create a greater risk for addiction.

Risk Factors:

  • Inability to deal with negative mood states
  • Presence of a mental health disorder
  • Peer pressure
  • Easy access
  • Loneliness

Signs and Symptoms of Opioid Abuse

There are many different signs that may become apparent if a person is abusing or has become addicted to opioids. Some of the more common signs and symptoms include:

Behavioral Symptoms:

  • Opiates are used for longer or at a greater amount than intended
  • Unsuccessful attempts to decrease the amount taken
  • Large amount of time spent obtaining, using, or recovering from the drug
  • Denial that there is a problem
  • Lacking responsibility for important activities and obligations
  • Stealing or lying to get more pills
  • Forging prescriptions
  • Doctor shopping

Physical Symptoms:

  • Increased heart rate
  • High blood pressure
  • Increased energy
  • Decreased appetite
  • Increased sexual arousal
  • Physical agitation
  • Constricted blood vessels
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Over arousal and hyper-vigilance
  • Increased sensitivity to sensory stimuli
  • Psychosis

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Increased general anxiety
  • Anxiety attacks
  • Euphoria
  • Depression
  • Irritability
  • Lowered motivation

Effects of Opiate Abuse

The long-term abuse of opioids can lead to a number of devastating consequences that can have lasting effects. Opioid abuse can cause a weakened immune system, dependency, tolerance, and severe organ problems. Additional effects can include:

  • Inability to hold down a job
  • Financial difficulties
  • Legal ramifications including incarceration
  • Family discord
  • Unstable relationships
  • Medical complications including heart infections, liver problems, weakened immune systems, respiratory problems
  • Depression
  • infertility
  • Self-harm
  • Suicidal ideation
  • Death (due to overdose or suicide)

Co-occurring Disorders

There are a number of disorders that co-occur with opioid addiction and may include:

  • Post-traumatic Stress Disorder
  • Drug abuse
  • Alcohol abuse
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Borderline personality disorder
  • Antisocial Personality Disorder
  • Depression
  • Conduct disorder
  • Schizophrenia
  • Anxiety
If you feel that you are in crisis, or are having thoughts about hurting yourself or others, please call 9-1-1 or go to the nearest emergency room immediately.

Withdrawal Effects of Opiate Abuse

Opiate withdrawal occurs after an individual abruptly stops or greatly reduces drug use after a prolonged period of abuse. Symptoms usually begin to occur twelve hours after the last use. Some of the common withdrawal effects associated with stopping the use of opiates include:

  • Physical and psychological cravings
  • Dilated pupils
  • Stomach cramps
  • Sweating
  • Chills
  • Vomiting and nausea
  • Diarrhea
  • Bone pain
  • Agitation
  • Anxiety
  • Muscle tension
  • Shaking or quivering
  • Trouble sleeping

Signs of Opioid Overdose

When taken for a prolonged period of time the body becomes accustomed to the opiates and it takes more medication to induce the same response, which can lead to an overdose. If someone is displaying some of the following symptoms the safest thing you can do is call 911 because it could indicate an overdose.

  • Respiratory distress
  • Acting confused
  • Acting drowsy and having trouble staying awake
  • Sudden mood shifts
  • Not knowing where they are
  • Uncontrollable vomiting
  • Pinpoint pupils
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