What Are the Most Obvious Signs of Opioid Abuse?

Medically Reviewed

It can be challenging to determine if someone is abusing opioids, but any strange habit or suspicion must be taken seriously. If you are using more of a drug, and your daily functioning deteriorates rather than gets better, that is a sign that an addiction is developing.

If you use the medication longer than it is prescribed to you, that is a significant warning sign, too. If you are using it for nonmedical reasons, perhaps because you’re anxious, depressed, or bored, that places you at high risk.

Whether opioids are obtained legally or not, taking the medication should not be satisfying. If you are using them for their intended purpose, you ideally should not experience a high. You may have side effects, such as constipation or nausea, so it should not be pleasant. Once you exceed the amount required for pain control that you get high, this is a cause for concern.

Opioids cause the brain to release dopamine, which triggers the desire to repeat the experience. When the medication is used in high amounts for too long, it can be extremely addictive. It’s important to know when a person is abusing opioids so that they can receive the right help.

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), a person must experience at least two of the following 11 symptoms within the past year:

Signs of Opioid Abuse

  • Taking a substance in larger or longer amounts than intended: Prescription pain relievers are for short-term treatment, so extended use may be a sign of trouble.
  • Unsuccessful efforts to stop or control substance use: Even if opioid users want to quit, it may be harder for some individuals to see it through. That is because of genetic, psychological, and environmental factors can play a role in whether someone can stop using.
  • Excessive time spent obtaining, using, or recovering from opioid use: Someone addicted to opioids may spend a significant amount of time and money seeking drugs, or they might use other drugs instead.
  • Strong urges or cravings for opioids: The user may know about the adverse consequences of opioids, but that is of little concern to someone who abuses opioids.
  • Repeated failure to fulfill home, school, or work obligations: Opioid use may disrupt sleep patterns and cause sedation, which can affect life duties that are noticeable to others.
  • Continued use despite social problems: Personality changes may occur that are noticeable to others around the user.
  • Withdrawal from social, recreational, or occupational activities: Skipping events the user once found joy in can be a sign of opioid abuse.
  • Using substances in physically hazardous situations: Acting recklessly under the influence is a known side effect of opioids. This can include having unsafe sex or operating heavy machinery while under the influence of opioids.

Continued use despite physical or psychological issues: Opioids could exacerbate mental health conditions that occur with opioid use, such as bipolar disorder or depression. It’s crucial to treat addiction and co-occurring mental health disorders at the same time.

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