Opiates include the strongest, most powerful painkillers on the market. They include such well-known drugs as morphine, oxycodone, and codeine. The street drug heroin also falls into this category. Even though doctors frequently prescribe opiates to help patients manage acute or long-term pain, there are many risks of opiate use that carry the potential for serious health impacts, including addiction. Here are the most common signs of opioid addiction.
Signs of opioid addiction
Opioids rank as the most commonly prescribed medication in the U.S., according to research from the University of Pennsylvania. This highly addictive class of drugs relieves pain effectively for some, but can also lead to physical and mental addiction.
Opiates work by latching onto opioid receptors located in your brain, spinal cord, and gastrointestinal system. They essentially change how your perceive pain. Because these powerful drugs work so closely with the inner workings of your body, you may quickly grow accustomed to operating while under their influence and need the pills to function properly.
The most common signs of opioid addiction are:
- Uncontrollable cravings to take the drug
- Inability to control your opioid use
- Use that’s having a negative effect on your personal relationships or finances
- Doctor shopping for more medications
- Social withdrawal or isolation
- Use that leads to risks of overdose
Physical signs of opioid addiction are just one way opiates latch onto your life. These drugs also work by triggering the reward pathways in your brain and producing euphoric feelings of pleasure and relaxation that lead to uncontrollable cravings. Once off the drugs, people often find themselves yearning for those happy feelings and take the drugs not to cure pain, but to return to pill-induced peace. Physical and mental addiction can devastate a person’s life as he or she forsakes responsibilities and commitments in favor of getting high off opiates. Even medications offered legally by prescription can result in devastating addiction.
The following video gives more information about the signs of opioid addiction on a global scale.
If you do stop taking opioids, you may experience symptoms of opioid withdrawal, including:
- Muscle aches
- Abdominal cramping
If you are taking opioids and want to stop use, always work with a doctor to gradually wean yourself off these medications.
Health problems from long-term use
Signs of opioid addiction aren’t the only thing you have to be careful about. Many actually won’t become addicted to opioids, but they will experience long-term dependence that leads to health problems.
Opiate use has been linked to a variety of health issues, including:
- Sleep disorders
- Hearing issues
Long-term use of opiates also interferes with the body’s system of hormones, researchers have found. A 2013 study completed by researchers in the UK found that patients taking opioids for chronic pain experienced decreased hormonal activity in their reproductive systems as well as low bone mass, which can lead to osteoporosis and fractures.
Risks of overdose and death
Opiate use and resulting deaths have continued to climb in recent decades. In 2010, about 38,000 people died from prescription painkiller overdose, up from 37,000 deaths in 2009, according to 2013 statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Opiates were linked to 75% of those deaths.
Opioid-related deaths occur most commonly among people who intentionally misuse prescription painkillers. However, sometimes a medical professional mistakenly prescribes an inappropriate amount of the drug or a patient misreads the medication’s instructions and accidentally overdoses, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).
People who frequently take opiates develop a tolerance for them, meaning they need to take ever-increasing amounts of the drug to achieve the same effect. When people stop taking the drugs, their tolerance drops again. If a patient with a lowered tolerance takes an amount of the drug they were accustomed to during a period of high tolerance, serious physical harm can happen, including overdose.
If you’re looking for ways to manage opioid use, you’re not alone. The large number of people looking for help has resulted in a vast array of resources to help you reduce the number of painkillers you take or give you strategies to stop taking them all together. Here are four tips on how you can manage your use especially if you’re experiencing signs of opioid addiction.
1. Talk to someone you trust
Whether that person is a doctor, family member, or other medical health professional, recruiting someone you trust into your arsenal of support can help you manage any overwhelming feelings you may encounter while trying to control your opioid use. A trusted advisor can help you find avenues of support. They can also help guide you if you feel you have nowhere to turn.
2. Slow down opioid use under a doctor’s care
If you’ve been using opioids for a while to manage pain, you may have a physical addiction. This means that your body has become so accustomed to operating under the influence of opioids that it needs them to operate normally. If you stop opioid use cold turkey, you may experience opioid withdrawal. This uncomfortable period, which can include anxiety, anger, nausea, and vomiting, can last for about 30 hours, according to the National Institutes of Health.
To alleviate these feelings, doctors sometimes work with patients to gradually decrease the number of pills taken, in a process called tapering. An alternative is to stop using opioids completely, but take another medication to lessen the side effects of withdrawal instead. Talk to your doctor to determine the best course of action to follow.
Also find a pain specialist who is dedicated to combining multiple therapies to manage your pain. Medications shouldn’t be your only treatment. The best doctors will combine lifestyle strategies, interventional pain management treatments, and complementary therapies to help relieve your pain. The following video discusses our approach to opioid use.
3. Find a support group
Support groups, including your local chapter of Narcotics Anonymous or groups formed by your local health center or hospital, can help you connect with others going through similar issues.
If you prefer the anonymity of an online support group, many do exist. AddictionSurvivors.org runs an opioid-specific support group, where you can find answers to all your questions, including how to taper off your opioid use and even resources to proceed through the popular 12-step recovery program without attending in-person meetings. ChronicPainSupportGroup.com offers a Facebook-based support group for those suffering from chronic pain and its side effects.
4. Consider alternatives to opioid use
If you turned to opioids to manage chronic pain, know that many healthier, safer alternatives can also help alleviate pain. Researchers say that methods ranging from meditation to yoga to a healthy diet, based on unprocessed, whole foods, can help lessen your pain and improve your quality of life.
Alternative methods of treatment, including injected medicines called nerve blocks that interfere with nerves as they send messages of pain, may also help reduce the number of opioids you take.
To work with a doctor who specializes in an interventional approach to pain management, and can help you manage your opioid use, click to find a pain doctor in your area.
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