Opiates Signs of Use and Side Effects
The right medication can really enhance a person’s quality of life, but opiate abuse is rampant in this country due to the nature of the drug. Identifying the signs of opiate use in yourself or a loved one can reveal the need for opiate addiction treatment before addiction swallows your entire life.
Dependence can set in even when opiate-based prescriptions are taken under a doctor’s supervision. There are also many cases of patients turning to street drugs for relief, and the overdose death rates from opiate drugs are at an all-time high. That’s in addition to an upsurge in recreational drug abuse and the resulting addictions.
So, it’s important to look for symptoms of opiate use and abuse before a problem develops.
Signs of Opiate Abuse
Drug dependency can remain hidden for a long time, and many people abusing opiates appear functional on the surface. However, addiction and abuse take their toll. The signs of opiate use and abuse become difficult to miss. Importantly, the long-term effects of opiates can cause irreversible health damage.
The signs of abuse often coincide with other symptoms of opiate use and known side effects. Getting help for opiate addiction or dependency is possible regardless of the length or severity of the problem. But, knowing the symptoms of opiate addiction can save a life when it leads to early intervention and a stay at a medical detox center.
The first two signs of an emerging problem are taking more of the drug than prescribed or intended and taking the medication more frequently than directed. If someone becomes preoccupied with how many pills they have left or they’re counting down the days until they can get a refill, that’s a symptom of growing dependency. When that behavior appears alongside irritation with no apparent cause or defensiveness when asked about their substance use, it reinforces the likelihood that there exists a deeper problem with opiates.
These symptoms are easy to figure out if substance use is known, such as when someone has a legal prescription. However, drug diversion is common when other friends or family members have a legal prescription that’s accessible to someone with a history of substance abuse. Addiction due to recreational abuse brings additional signs and behaviors like a deterioration in personal hygiene, changing personality or habits, and chronic money problems, to name a few.
Other Signs of Opiate Use Include:
- Cravings for the drug
- Preoccupation with medication
- Chronic absenteeism or tardiness at work, home, or school
- Shirking responsibilities or failing to live up to obligations
- Continued use regardless of consequences
- Repeated attempts to quit taking a medication or street drug with no success
- Needing larger or more frequent doses of the drug to achieve the same effect as the first use
- Drug diversion, such as stealing or buying someone’s prescription medication
- Doctor shopping. forging prescriptions, or creating injuries in order to obtain prescriptions
- Lawless and/or reckless behavior
Illegal intravenous drug use leads to rapid degradation in physical or mental health. Some of these ailments may be life-long. There may be bruising apparent or visible needle marks and scars. The person may appear to have the flu when experiencing withdrawal symptoms. Often, these symptoms affect the appetite, leading to noticeable, sudden weight loss.
Opiate Side Effects
When a prescription is taken as directed, there should be no high other than a mild sense of euphoria and well-being. The longer the drug is taken, the less the user will feel any positive effects at all. One of the by-products of opiate use is an increased tolerance for the drug that leaves normal dosages almost completely ineffective.
Opiate side effects in the short term include nausea and vomiting, headache, constipation, and blurred vision. There may also be mental confusion and dizziness involved, and the person using the drugs may sleep more than normal. These effects are more difficult to spot if someone is also recovering from surgery or an injury.
Long-Term Effects of Opiates
The long-term effects of opiate abuse can be severe and difficult to overcome without intervention and ongoing support. Psychiatric disorders are possible, and there is much damage caused to internal organs. Opiates are especially hard on the heart, liver, and lungs.
Intravenous drug abusers have an increased chance of developing skin infections and problems with the circulatory system. They also have higher rates of infectious diseases like HIV and hepatitis. Pregnant women or nursing mothers run the risk of passing a form of dependency on to their babies. Newborns of women who used during pregnancy are often born with a condition called Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS) that’s similar to withdrawal in adults. Special care must be given to these babies, who may remain at-risk for health and behavior problems as they grow up.
Death by overdose is always a possibility, especially when using drugs like heroin or strong opiate-based drugs like fentanyl or Oxycontin.
Other long-term effects of opiate use are:
- Emotional or mental instability
- Chronic constipation
- Liver and heart damage
How Long Do Opiates Stay in Your System?
The amount of drugs in the system at any given time depends, in part, on the length, frequency, and severity of opiate abuse, the type of opiate and mode of use, and the person’s size, age, and metabolism. In general, opiates have a short half-life, and withdrawal can set in fairly quickly after last use. The effects of the drug last longer than the presence in the bloodstream.
Blood tests can detect heroin for up to five hours after someone shoots up, but morphine or fentanyl show up in tests up to 12 hours later. The presence of hydrocodone and similar prescription opiates remains in the blood for up to 24 hours. During urinalysis testing, heroin can cause a positive result for up to a week after using it. Prescription opiates are detectable through urine tests from two to four days. Tests on hair samples will show signs of drug use for up to three months for nearly all opiates.
Who’s in Danger From Opiate Addiction?
There’s a stereotype of a drug addict as some seedy-looking character who’s homeless and unemployed. While addiction can certainly lead to such life circumstances, an opiate addict can look like someone’s mother, brother, pastor, or boss. There is no one profile of a potential heroin addict or prescription drug abuser, but there are factors that make someone more vulnerable to developing a substance use disorder.
Circumstances that put someone at risk for opiate abuse are:
- Family or personal history of substance abuse
- Early age at first use
- Mental health disorders, whether diagnosed or undiagnosed
- Tobacco and alcohol use
- History of risk-taking or thrill-seeking behavior
- Anxiety and depression
- Stressful life circumstances
- Previous drug or alcohol rehabilitation
Just because someone is at a higher risk for developing an opiate addiction, that doesn’t mean they’re doomed to a life of dependency. It just means they have to be more careful when taking prescription drugs and avoid triggering situations or environments.
Alternatives for Pain Management
Opiates do work when someone has severe pain or a chronic condition. However, there’s a high risk in taking them long-term. Fast, tenacious dependence leads to tolerance and increases the odds of developing an addiction. If there are concerns about taking opiate-based pain relievers, talk to your doctor about alternatives for pain management that put less emphasis on drugs and more on overall wellness. A Pain Recovery Program is also available at Lakeview Health in Jacksonville, FL.