Opioid addiction is on the rise around the world. In 2019, over 10 million people were abusing opioids in the US alone. Most of us know either someone who abuses opioids or was a victim of an overdose. Recently we hit another sad milestone, in a twelve-month period ending in April 2021 over 100,000 people lost their lives to overdose. A question arises, what can we do to help? Most people know someone who is struggling with opioid dependency, but we might not realize it. How can we tell if someone is addicted to opioids? If you are concerned that your friend or a loved one has been affected, there are certain signs you can look for.
The more obvious clues of spotting addiction are often the physical ones. For example, a person who injects their drugs might have track marks, needle marks, or wear long sleeve clothing to attempt to cover them up. Some people may also experience weight loss or gain, lethargy, nodding off, bloodshot eyes, or lack of concern for personal appearance and hygiene.
If an individual runs out of their drug you might also be able to spot signs of withdrawal. Those are frequently exhibited by shakes or tremors, sweating, goose bumps, diarrhea, vomiting, and trouble sleeping. But not all signs of opioid dependency are physical. Most of them are social and behavioral and those elements might be harder to pinpoint.
We must realize that once an addiction is established, usually the individual will not seek help from their immediate family because they don’t expect any effective help from anyone. Unfortunately, in today’s world opioid addiction is met with a stigma and prejudice. For that reason, most people will be forced to hide the problem and lie about it. Gradually they will feel more comfortable being in the company of others who are living in a similar situation which will lead them to a place where they learn how to become somebody else.
Often opioid-dependent individuals will lose interest in activities or hobbies they once enjoyed. Isolation from family and friends, avoidance of social events as well as an overall decline in performance in work, school, or social life are all common indicators of someone struggling with opioid addiction.
Any kind of behavior change or severe alterations in mood can be a sign of opioid addiction as well. We are not talking about someone being upset due to a setback in their personal life or career but rather a cluster of extreme, inexplicable behaviors. An addict will often exhibit hostility, anxiety, agitation, or even anger. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the signs of opiate addiction necessary to diagnose the condition, include a strong desire or sense of compulsion to take the drug, difficulties in controlling drug-taking behavior in terms of levels of use, a physiological withdrawal state when drug use is stopped or reduced, evidence of tolerance requiring increased doses of the drug to achieve effects originally produced by lower doses, and progressive neglect of alternative pleasures or interests because of drug use.
If you or anyone you know is experiencing any of the behaviors described above, it’s important to seek help from a qualified medical provider. You can also keep a couple of important points in mind when your loved one is dealing with opioid addiction.
How Can You Help?
Provide support and loving care. Support does not mean supporting the “habit.” Support means being honest with them and helping them realize that there are answers to their problem. Let them know that you love them and that you want to get them the best help you can. If possible, offer to help with the cost of their treatment, but if nothing else, promise them that you will be by their side.
Provide meaningful answers. Help them to understand what’s happening in their bodies and let them know that’s it okay. Addiction or dependency is more powerful than one person can overcome on their own.