Opioid addiction is a serious health problem, and it can quickly turn deadly. Here’s the lowdown on prescription opioid addiction and some signs someone is addicted to pain pills.
Prescription painkillers like OxyContin, Fentanyl, and Vicodin are opioid pain relievers that are highly addictive and have a high potential for abuse. In our current opioid crisis, over two million Americans of all ages, incomes, educational levels, and localities are addicted to opioid painkillers, with another half-million addicted to heroin. Before you look for signs someone is addicted to pain pills, it’s important to understand what addiction really is.
Addiction 101: A Primer
Addiction is a medical condition that’s widely regarded by the medical community as a disease. Addiction is caused by changes in the physical structures and chemical functions of the brain, affecting thought and behavior patterns. It’s characterized by compulsive drug use despite negative consequences. The negative consequences of addiction often include relationship problems, legal issues, financial troubles, and physical and mental health problems.
When you use opioids, they produce a massive dopamine rush in the brain. Dopamine is a brain chemical, or neurotransmitter, that’s responsible for feelings of pleasure. It’s an important chemical in the memory and learning centers of the brain, and it’s designed to help keep the human race alive.
When you engage in pleasurable activities like enjoying a nice meal or engaging in sexual activities, your brain releases dopamine in measured amounts. The brain learns that by doing these activities, pleasure is produced. We seek out food and sex as a result of natural cravings.
Opioids produce the release of unnaturally large amounts of dopamine, causing an intense feeling of euphoria and keen sense of wellbeing. As you continue to use opioids, your brain begins to make ironclad associations between using these drugs and the pleasure they produce. Eventually, intense cravings will drive a compulsion to use opioids, and no matter how hard someone tries to quit or how much they want to quit, they’ll find they’re unable to do so for the long-term without help.
Opioid Dependence is Different from Addiction
Dependence on opioids occurs as your brain changes the way it functions chemically in order to compensate for the frequent presence of pain pills. As the brain compensates, a tolerance develops, which means that you need increasingly larger doses of pain pills. At some point, the brain will begin to function more comfortably when opioids are present than when they’re not. When someone with a dependence stops using, normal brain function will rebound, and symptoms of pain pill addiction withdrawal will set in. These may include nausea and vomiting, abdominal cramps and diarrhea, insomnia, cold sweats, and muscle aches.
Signs Someone is Addicted to Pain Pills
Addiction changes the way you think and behave. Signs someone is addicted to pain pills include changes in behavior, such as mood swings, paranoia, or hostility. Opiate-addicted individuals might engage in risky behaviors they wouldn’t have engaged in before the addiction, or they may think and act in ways that are unlike them.
When someone is addicted, willpower is no longer enough to stop using. That’s because of the powerful brain changes that occur and produce compulsive behaviors and intense cravings. Seeking, using, and recovering from using opioids becomes the primary focus in an addicted person’s life. Along those lines, other signs someone is addicted to pain pills include:
- Losing interest in activities and hobbies they once enjoyed.
- Withdrawing from friends and family.
- Lying to friends and family about their use.
- Stealing money or pills to support their drug habit.
- Forging prescriptions or getting prescriptions from more than one doctor.
Physical signs of opiate use include:
- Pinpoint pupils.
- Frequent yawning.
- Nodding off, or falling asleep at inappropriate times.
- Needle marks, if the person is also abusing heroin.
- An increasing lack of personal hygiene.
When someone has developed a dependence on opioids, the symptoms of pain pill addiction withdrawal can be intense, and this will make it extremely hard to stop using pills. A high quality treatment program will involve medical detox or medication-assisted treatment to end the physical dependence on opioids.
But detox isn’t enough to treat the addiction, which is far more complex. Opioid addiction treatment addresses issues underlying the addiction, helps individuals learn healthy ways of thinking and behaving, and helps them develop skills and strategies to cope with cravings, stress, and other triggers for relapse.
If you or someone you love exhibits physical signs of opioid use, a high quality, holistic treatment program can help. Addiction is a treatable disease, and treatment can help you reclaim your life and end the addiction for good.
If you or a loved one needs help with abuse and/or treatment, please call the WhiteSands Treatment at (877) 855-3470. Our addiction specialists can assess your recovery needs and help you get the addiction treatment that provides the best chance for your long-term recovery.