Almost one in three people know someone addicted to opioids - and that number is constantly on the rise.
The opiate crisis is happening because more people than ever have ready access to strong painkillers. The addictive qualities aren't seen by society as much of a problem compared to illegal opiates - but the risks are still potentially life-threatening.
There's less stigma around painkiller dependency because it's a legal drug. People also feel that, by having a prescription, they have permission to use the drugs - even if they don't follow the directions of the prescription.
An addiction to painkillers is easy to hide. Would you know if someone you love has a dependency on painkillers?
Do you already know someone who needs help?
Here's how to find out if your friend is showing signs of painkiller dependency - and how to help them recover.
Why Are Painkillers Addictive?
Opiate painkillers play a significant role in reducing severe pain. However, they work by altering the brain's response to pain - and it's this chemical change that makes it so hard to give up opiates.
Many people start their journey to dependency with a legitimate injury that requires legal narcotics to reduce pain during the healing process. As time goes on, their body becomes used to the dose and requires more in each dose to achieve the same painkilling effect.
This part of the journey to opiate addiction is called dependency. It's when the body has become used to the drug. Dependency isn't an addiction, but it can lead to it.
Addiction occurs later on when the need for the drug becomes an emotional requirement. The body doesn't need opiates anymore, but the brain tells a person they need it to feel better, to cope, or to be able to function in the outside world.
The emotional connection to opiates is the most dangerous part of addiction. The body can detox itself from opiates in a relatively short time: resetting behavior to not emotionally rely on the drug takes far longer.
Common Signs of Opioid Painkiller Addiction
Spotting an addiction to prescription narcotics is a tough thing to do. Many people learn to hide their habit, so it's often hard to spot the signs.
Keep an eye out for a combination of these common signs of painkiller addiction. If your loved one is showing these symptoms, it's time to help them seek treatment.
1. Lack of Interest in Favorite Hobbies
If your loved one stops playing their favorite sport, going out to see friends, or spends more time alone, they could be struggling with narcotic dependency.
Withdrawing from social events and taking less interest in previous hobbies is a classic sign of emotional disturbance in a person. When it comes to narcotics, it's a sign they're ashamed of or trying to hide, their dependency.
2. Visiting Several Pharmacies or Doctors
If you've noticed your friend visiting several pharmacies in a short space of time to fill prescriptions, they may have a problem with narcotics. This is particularly true if they're 'doctor shopping' - seeing several doctors in a short space of time.
This usually happens to gain access to more prescriptions they can fill. It means doctors won't realize how many extra pills the person is getting through, so they can't spot this classic symptom of opioid dependency.
3. Taking a Higher Dose
Taking a higher dose is something that happens during opioid dependency for two reasons. First, the body builds a tolerance to narcotics, so a higher dose is needed for the same effect.
Second, the mental attachment to taking a higher dose is a sign of addiction. The person feels they must take more of the drug in order to feel like they can cope with reality.
You may not notice your friend or loved one filling their prescriptions more often, however. They may be delaying their dose or taking smaller doses through the day to save up the pills they have. This gives them the opportunity to take a larger dose for a bigger narcotic-induced high.
4. Showing Signs of Risk-Taking Behavior
Taking a higher dose is also a sign of risk-taking behavior that comes with addiction. People often lose their sense of self when they begin to rely on a substance. This means they have less care for their own safety - especially if taking risks gives them access to the drug they crave.
Examples of risk-taking behavior include:
• Sudden promiscuity
• Participating in illegal activity
• Drinking more alcohol than usual
• Dangerous driving
• Truancy from school or avoiding work
• Increased aggression and fighting.
Some of these behaviors, especially in young adults, are often written off as 'just growing up'. However, if your loved one starts demonstrating this type of behavior it's important to speak to them about it.
5. Anger When You Try to Talk About It
People with a narcotic dependency are often ashamed and defensive of their behavior. If you've ever mentioned their reliance on painkillers, or the fact they've been taking them for an extended period of time, check out their response.
An angry response shows the person knows that their behavior isn't healthy. Yet, they can't bring themselves to approach it. This often stems from shame: they don't want to appear weak by asking for help.
How to Help Someone Seek Treatment
While seeking treatment is ultimately up to the individual, there are things you can do to support someone with a dependency on narcotics. Most importantly, remember to remove judgment from the situation: shaming someone could risk them cutting your relationship off altogether.
Here are the things you can do to help:
Research Recovery Options
Offer to research local treatment centers for them. Arrange appointments with counselors or recovery groups and offer to drive them to these appointments.
Helping them to find a route to recovery that suits them will increase the likelihood that they'll stick with it. Trying to force rehab on someone, for example, can end up damaging relationships. Letting them choose their options helps retain your bond.
Listen to Them
Sometimes all it takes is a supportive listening ear to help someone on the road to recovery.
Tell your loved one that you're there for them whenever they want to talk. Find out if there are other underlying issues behind their dependency, and if you can help with those.
For example, if a dependency on narcotics has led to social anxiety, offer to go to a new exercise class together. They'll feel encouraged and supported, and helping to support them in other areas will improve their chance of addiction recovery.
Offer Practical Support
There are other ways you can remove the barriers to ending a person's addiction. For example, someone may use their inability to afford childcare as a reason to avoid rehab. Offer to look after their children while they attend their clinic sessions.
Practical support helps those with a dependency to prioritize their recovery. They'll be grateful for the space you give them to recover.
Discover More Ways to Help
Helping a friend or loved one with their addiction to painkillers is a long journey you'll go through together.
There are so many ways you can support each other and help your friend through tough times. From learning to cook meals together to setting activity goals for the summer, there are tons of things you can try.
Be inspired: hit the search box for Addiction Recovery topics to check out more ways to support someone through their addiction to narcotics!