What Are the Signs of Opioid Addiction?

It can be difficult to identify the signs of opioid addiction if you don’t know what to look for. Addiction, especially in its early stages, isn’t always like what you see on television with dramatic standoffs and dangerous criminals. Sometimes it can be deceptively subtle. The individual indicators of opioid addiction might seem harmless in isolation and passed off as some other health condition. Learning how to recognize this kind of substance abuse order can save someone’s life.

Common Signs of Opioid Addiction

Opioids are a class of drugs that have widespread consequences on both the brain and the body. There are large amounts of opioid receptors on the spine which allows opioids to have a direct impact on the central nervous system. As such, many of the physical signs of opioid addiction will involve body functions that the central nervous system regulates. These functions include cardiac and respiratory systems. The most commons signs of opioid use disorder and addiction are as follows:

  • Chronic constipation
  • Small pupils
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Reduced sex drive
  • Increased pain sensitivity
  • Shallow breathing
  • Slurred speech
  • Mood swings
  • Insomnia
  • Depression or anxiety

There is no set time frame of how long it takes to become physically or psychologically dependent on opioids. However, there are a number of factors that can cause certain individuals to be more likely to develop an addiction than others. Those with the highest chances are those with a psychological disorder and those who have experienced substance abuse in the past. Being middle-aged or older is also a factor that can make addiction more likely.

Why Are Opioids So Addictive?

Both licit and illicit types of opioids carry a high risk of being habit-forming. Opioids mimic endorphins, a neurotransmitter responsible for feelings of pain and pleasure, but are far more powerful than the version that our bodies create naturally. When opioids interact with an endorphin receptor (mu-receptors), they cause heightened levels of endorphin activity which can result in a powerful high. This sensation is often described as a wave of euphoria that is followed by an artificial feeling of calm and relaxation. 

The Hidden Dangers of Prescription Painkillers

Prescription painkillers, in particular, have a unique risk that has little to do with how powerful they can be. Opioid analgesics are renowned in medical communities for their effectiveness in pain management and are often prescribed to help deal with chronic pain. These types of painkillers can be prescribed for weeks or even months at a time. The chance of causing physical dependence is highly likely with these extra-long periods of use—even when patients closely follow recommended dosage instructions.

Next Steps: Treating Opioid Addiction

Opioid addiction can be closer than you might think. Being able to identify the signs of opioid addiction and can quite literally save someone’s life. However, recognizing the signs is only the first step. Your next action should be to seek treatment. With opioids leading the reports of accidental death, it’s too risky to ignore.

Naloxone, buprenorphine, and naltrexone are a few of the medications out there that can help mitigate the harmful effects of opioid use disorder. Many of them require a prescription making it very important to seek professional medical treatment as soon as addiction is detected. A combination of medically assisted treatment (MAT) combined with therapy gives opioid addicts the highest chances of successful recovery. 

In the instance of an opioid overdose, call emergency services immediately. One of the main side effects is respiratory arrest, this can result in permanent brain damage, coma, and death. 

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