Opioid drugs are commonly abused for their euphoric and sedative effects. For this reason, users often face a very high potential for abuse, dependence, and addiction. Opioids come in several forms, including prescription painkillers and street drugs such as heroin. Other commonly found opiates and opioids include the following:
- Hydrocodone (Vicodin, Norco)
- Hydromorphone (Dilaudid)
- Oxycodone (OxyContin, Percocet)
- Fentanyl and carfentanil
Prescription medications are usually found as a pill or tablet as a product of drug diversion, but also occasionally as a liquid or other form. Heroin and its highly-potent cousin fentanyl are usually found on the black market as a white powder. Heroin can also present as a dark tacky substance known as black tar and can be taken orally in a pill, smoked, snorted, or injected.
Opioid abuse is associated with the development of tolerance and dependence. Tolerance is caused by the brain’s propensity to diminish the response to a psychoactive substance after repeated use. This condition is hallmarked by a person’s need for increasing amounts of a drug to achieve the desired effect. Dependence occurs as the brain gradually adapts to the continued presence of opioids and becomes unable to function without it.
Withdrawal symptoms that onset after discontinuing opioid use are definite indications of physical dependence. Moreover, when a person stops using opioids or significantly reduces the dose, he or she will encounter highly uncomfortable and perhaps painful symptoms as a result. These unpleasant withdrawal effects are among the main catalysts for relapse.
Symptoms and Signs of Heroin Use
There are many physical, emotional, and behavioral signs of opioid use, including side effects, withdrawal, and symptoms of overdose. Some signs depend on the most common method of administration in addition to the type of drug used and the extent of abuse.
Side Effects of Opioid Use
The following symptoms are among the most common effects that can manifest as a result of opioid use:
- An initial rush of euphoria
- Severe itching
- Slowed heart rate
- Prolonged drowsiness
- Heavy feelings in limbs
- Impaired thinking
People who are addicted to opioids also frequently have mental health issues, which either contributed to the opioid use or are directly caused by it. Most commonly, these are related to clinical depression or anxiety, but can include many types of mood disorders and behaviors, including the following:
- Agitation and irritability
- Suicidal thoughts and actions
- Post-traumatic stress disorder
- Borderline personality disorder
- Bipolar disorder
- Obessessive-compulsive disorder
Behavioral Signs of Opioid Use
When opioid use develops into a priority, a person’s entire life may begin to transform, and drug use becomes the primary focus. Due to this fact, there are likely to be marked changes in a person’s appearance and behavior. Most often, a person who is in the throes of addiction will continually prioritize drug use over obligations and relationships despite the myriad of problems it can cause.
The following are common behavioral signs associated with opioid use that can serve as warnings for concerned loved ones that there is an immediate need to seek professional treatment:
- Adverse changes in behavior
- Concerning changes in social group
- Use of street slang related to heroin or other opioids
- Friends or family missing money and/or valuables
- Neglect of important responsibilities, such as family, school, or work
- Disheveled appearance and poor hygiene
- Legal and/or financial problems
- Deceptiveness and secretiveness
- Firm denial that there is a problem despite clear evidence to the contrary
- Doctor-shopping (visiting several doctors or pharmacies in an attempt to obtain prescription medication)
It’s important to note that many signs of opioid abuse are related to the method of administration. For example, a person who is using heroin or other substances intravenously may exhibit marks or sores on extremities at injection sites. They may also have bruises, abscesses, and scars, wear long sleeves or pants, even in warm weather, to hide this evidence of use.
A person who smokes opioids might experience frequent bouts of coughing and develop other lung problems, such as emphysema or COPD later in life. A person who snorts opioids may have nose bleeds and incur damage to nasal tissues.
Drug paraphernalia is also a sure-fire indicator of opioid use. People who inject will likely have needles and tourniquets lying around, and people who smoke it might have pipes and spoons. People who consume pills may have several bottles, perhaps empty in the trash.
Symptoms of Overdose
An opioid overdose requires immediate medical care. The following are common signs of an opioid overdose:
- Bluish lips or nails (cyanosis)
- Clammy or cold skin
- Disorientation and confusion
- Slowed or stopped breathing
- Pinpoint pupils
- Muscle spasticity
- Low blood pressure
- Weak or absent pulse
- Profound drowsiness
If you suspect that you or someone you know is experiencing an opioid overdose, please call 911 immediately or visit the nearest emergency room. If you have naloxone (Narcan) available, administer this medication as it can reverse an overdose and save a person’s life.
Opioid Withdrawal Symptoms
Withdrawal symptoms manifest as a result of physical dependence in frequent opioid users or after a “binge”—a prolonged period of excessive use. Short-acting opioids, such as heroin, can result in withdrawal symptoms in as soon as 6-12 hours, whereas longer-acting opioids, such as methadone, are associated with an extended time before the onset of withdrawal symptoms—up to and beyond 24 hours in some cases. In all cases, symptoms tend to subside over 5-7 days.
In some instances, the loved ones of those abusing opioids may not know they have been using or the scope of their use. However, in learning to recognize the symptoms of withdrawal, they may increase their awareness of the extent of the problem.
Common withdrawal symptoms associated with opioid abuse include the following:
- Insomnia and sleep disturbances
- Depression or anxiety
- Body aches and pains
- Irritability and agitation
- Runny nose
- Nausea and vomiting
Without treatment, a person undergoing withdrawal is very likely to relapse. Because of the heinous nature of addiction, they will often do anything to get their fix. This includes pilfering prescription medications from loved ones, stealing money and other items, dealing drugs themselves, or even prostitution.
Treatment for Heroin Addiction
Opioid abuse is a debilitating and potentially life-threatening disorder that causes a tremendous amount of suffering for both the person who uses and their loved ones. Fortunately, heroin addiction is very treatable through the use of a comprehensive, research-based approach. A comprehensive program consists of therapeutic services essential for recovery, such as psychotherapy, individual and group counseling, group support, and aftercare planning.
Treatment usually begins with detox—a medically-monitored process in which a person is supervised for several days while his or her body is cleared of opioids and other toxic substances. After detox, patients are encouraged to participate in an intensive treatment program followed by outpatient therapy.
Recovery By The Sea employs addiction specialists who provide patients with the tools and support they so desperately need to achieve a full recovery, prevent relapse, and enjoy long-lasting wellness and sobriety.
Contact us today to discover how we can help you or a loved one navigate the recovery process toward a fulfilling and healthy life!