Opioid Dependency: What to Look For if Someone You Know Has A Problem

Alarming headlines about opioid addiction can be seen everywhere. The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) opioid reports for 2017 are astounding:

  • 1,884 unintentional opioid overdose deaths.
  • Over 7,000 opioid overdose emergency department visits.
  • Over 5 million opioid pills dispensed.

How does opioid dependency occur? Medical Director Dr. Robert McHale, M.D., M.SC., DFAPA, ABPM, FASAM, explained opioids are effective pain relievers when directed and monitored by a physician. Addiction evolves when the effects that opioid painkillers produce are habit-forming and leads to patterns of abuse.

What Are Opioids?

Opioids are a class of drugs that include heroin as well as prescription pain relievers like oxycodone, hydrocodone, codeine, morphine, fentanyl and others, as described by the American Society of Addiction Medicine. Prescription opioids are most commonly used to treat moderate to severe pain, but can also have serious risks and side effects.

“So many people suffer from a substance use disorder and get their supply from their doctor, family or friends,” explained McHale. “Most typically the first use of opioids is from a family member’s opioid prescription,”

McHale identifies the following as the four most common signs that may indicate a loved one is struggling with a dependence to opioids.

How to identify possible signs of opioid dependency

1. Unusual Changes in Typical Behavior
Watch for subtle and distinct changes in the individual’s everyday behaviors. People who are dependent on opioids can be aggressive, irritated or emotional. They can go into withdrawal and then cravings occur.

“Unusual behavior can include not meeting social obligations, isolating themselves by not attending family functions or not meeting the demands of work or school – such behavior can imply or indicate that something is wrong,” McHale suggested.

2. Manipulation of Loved Ones, Family and Friends
Another indicator is manipulation and dishonesty.

“Stories just don’t make sense. For instance, if the person says, ‘I have to work late today’ and the individual is not at a work” . “In addition, you can see a false pattern of behavior that the person uses to hide their substance use disorder.”

3. Economic Difficulties
Finances can be stressful for someone who has a substance use disorder. “Unexplained economic difficulties” in which the individual consistently needs money to purchase drugs and drug-related items cause people to steal or obtain money illegally.

4. Failure to Meet Social Obligations
Missing scheduled or important life events whether socially or professionally “often indicate substance use disorder,” said McHale.

How you can help

Aggression or irritation can signal erratic behavior caused by withdrawal or cravings. Therefore, he stressed that keeping an eye out for these signs in combination with early detection is the key to identifying an opioid substance use disorder.

Physical symptoms of opioid dependency may include pinpoint pupils present, and possessing drug paraphernalia such as needles, spoons, cotton or filter paper, or rubber tubing. “Those abusing opioids may appear sleepy,” McHale explained of common signs.

Resources if You Suspect Someone has an Opioid Addiction
Please call Monarch at 866-272-7826 for more information about facility-based crisis services.

Call 1-800-662-HELP to contact resource groups like Narcotics Anonymous, Alcoholics Anonymous and Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)

Dialing NC 2-1-1, provided by United Way of North Carolina, offers a wide range of community assistance options including health and human services.

McHale suggests reaching out to the community that supports the individual for help. “Religious advisors or connecting to a network of friends or peers is a good place to start. “Addictions become worse with isolation. Recovery starts to occur with more people involved in their care.”