More than 100 million Americans struggle with chronic pain, resulting in almost 300 million prescriptions for opioid painkillers each year. Because Americans use so many opioid medications, there is enormous potential for abuse which has fueled an explosion in opioid addiction. The current opioid epidemic is devastating families and communities throughout the nation and is leading to 28,000 overdose deaths annually—or almost 40 a day.
If you or someone you love is suffering from chronic pain in the form of migraines, back pain or arthritis, and are taking prescription painkillers like Oxycontin or Vicodin to find relief, you should know the signs of opioid addiction. In the U.S., physicians are supposed to limit prescriptions of opioids to three days, but many go beyond this limit. Any prolonged use or misuse of opioids may result in addiction.
First of all, you should know what an addiction is. Users develop a need for the pleasure response that opioids produce in the brain to mask chronic pain. Many opioid users grow dependent upon prescription painkillers and alter their behavior to obtain it. Eventually, the brain develops a resistance to the substance, requiring a larger dosage to produce the same effect.
There are a number of symptoms that may accompany opioid addiction, including:
- Lethargy—addiction to opioids may often present as drowsiness and lack of energy. Many addicts will look sleepy with drooping eyelids. If this listlessness is persistent throughout the day, discuss your opioid use with a physician immediately.
- Cognitive dysfunction—in many addicts, opioids interfere in cognitive abilities, making it more difficult to concentrate. As opioid dependence increases, thinking becomes more difficult which may contribute to lost work or school days.
- Behavioral changes—many of the physiological and cognitive alterations that occur due to opioid use and dependence often interfere in the user’s social relationships. This difficulty in maintaining relationships limits time in social settings and isolates the addict even from close loved ones. This increasing isolation, unfortunately, also contributes to destructive behavior like greater opioid consumption.
- Less personal attention—due to less interaction with others and greater focus on obtaining the addictive substance, many addicts will often ignore personal hygiene. Common signs include unbathed appearance, no or misapplied makeup, or slovenly apparel.
- Physical changes—it may be difficult to physically detect opioid addiction, but doctors often point to constricted pupils even in dim lighting, head nodding, itching of torso and extremities, and slurred speech.
If you suspect that someone you care about is abusing opioids, you may be able to help them if you proceed with care. Initially, you should avoid confronting them about their opioid dependence, as it may make them defensive. Instead try to maintain a supportive, compassionate relationship that will allow them to share their struggles. If you would like a professional diagnosis, engage the services of an addiction treatment specialist who can recommend recovery options. Finally, monitor their opioid use, and if you are afraid of an overdose, obtain a prescription for some Narcan, which can counteract an opioid overdose.
Article written by: Dr. Robert Moghim – CEO/Founder Colorado Pain Care
M.D. Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are the personal views of Robert Moghim, M.D. and do not necessarily represent and are not intended to represent the views of the company or its employees.