Opioid Abuse: Causes, Risks & Signs
Most of us are well aware of the epidemic of opioid abuse in the United States. The facts behind opioid abuse are alarming. The U.S. makes up just 5 percent of the world’s population. Yet, the U.S. accounts of 80 percent of the world’s prescription opioids. This is a major factor behind opioid abuse.
What is more, 53 percent of people who obtained prescription opioids got them from someone they know.
The danger of opioid abuse threatens nearly everyone. The best way to handle the danger of opioid abuse is to get the facts.
Given that opioid abuse appears to run through every level of society, it is in anyone’s best interest to understand opioid abuse.
What are Opioids?
Opioids are a class of drugs derived from the opium poppy plant. They have historically been used to control and alleviate pain. Opioids also produce a variety of other effects some of which are extremely dangerous.
Opioids include heroin and morphine. They also include prescription opioids such as Oxycodone (OxyContin), Vicodin, and numerous other synthetic chemicals derived from the opium poppy.
More recently, fentanyl has become prevalent in illegally produced opioids. Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is 50 to 100 times stronger than morphine.
Opioids are frequently prescribed to treat acute and chronic pain. Because opioids can also make people feel relaxed or “high,” they are frequently abused solely for the purpose of getting high.
Opioids work by binding with opioid receptors in the brain and central nervous system. This process effectively prevents pain signals from reaching the brain.
Opioids also have additional side effects. Slowed breathing, constipation, and nausea are common side effects.
Regular use of opioids can produce a tolerance to the drugs. Over time, as people increase their dosage whether as directed by a physician or on their own, the risk of addiction increases. Opioids are highly addictive.
Even if you are taking opioid medications under the supervision of a doctor, there is still a high risk of abuse and addiction.
Signs of Opioid Abuse
The danger of addiction to opioids is so great that even using them for just a few days increases the risk of addiction. The first sign of opioid abuse is tolerance to the drugs. People who abuse opioids will inevitably require more of the drugs to achieve the same effects. The longer you use opioids, the higher the tolerance and the greater the danger of addiction.
Other signs of opioid abuse are signs of withdrawal when you stop using the medications. Muscle aches, nausea, flu-like and symptoms are the most common withdrawal symptoms from opioid addiction.
Often it is the case that people who are abusing opioids will begin “shopping” for other doctors in order to obtain more of the drugs. This is generally called drug-seeking behavior. Doctors and law enforcement are trained to spot this and alert authorities.
There are several other signs of opioid abuse:
- Mood swings
- Borrowing or stealing money
- Work, school, and/or relationship difficulties
All of these things are signs that someone is abusing opioids and may be drifting into a serious problem of addiction.
Long-term opioid abuse can lead to damage to the immune system, gastrointestinal problems, respiratory problems, and blood disorders.
What Causes Opioid Abuse?
Because all opioids are dangerously addictive, anyone who takes opioids is at risk of addiction. A family history of addiction predisposes some people to opioid addiction. The type of opioids used also affect the likelihood of developing an addiction.
Simply abusing opioids for recreational purposes will inevitably lead to addiction. There is no safe recreational way to use opioids. They are so powerfully addictive that using them for any reason other than what is prescribed and supervised by a physician will lead to addiction.
By using opioids over time, anyone will eventually develop a tolerance for the drug. As you continue to increase the amount you take to achieve the same effects, you also increase your chances of becoming dependent.
As opioids bind with receptors in the brain and central nervous system, they cause the release of endorphins. These chemicals are often referred to as “feel good” chemicals. They induce feelings of pleasure and euphoria. It is this effect that leads people to abuse opioids to get high. But these chemicals and the resulting effects also trap people who are taking opioids under medical supervision to abuse the drugs and take them longer than directed.
The painful withdrawal from opioids is another cause of opioid addiction. Once you have developed a tolerance to the drugs, ceasing use can induce painful withdrawal symptoms. These symptoms are easily relieved by using more opioids. From this, a cycle of addiction will become entrenched.
If you are using opioid medications, and you have developed a tolerance, advise your doctor. There are methods to safely stop using opioids. However, continued use of opioids will lead to full-scale addiction.
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Who and what are the Risks of Opioid Abuse?
Again, anyone who uses opioids, whether under a doctor’s care or recreationally, is at risk for opioid abuse. Because the drugs carry such intrinsic danger, virtually anyone is prone to abusing opioids.
There are genetic predispositions to addiction which can make some people more vulnerable than others. People with a family history of addiction and drug abuse are more likely to abuse opioids than others.
Using opioids in ways other than medically directed will likely lead to abuse. Any time you use opioids in ways that are not prescribed, you are in serious danger of falling into opioid abuse.
Beyond this, there are a number of factors which tend to contribute to opioid abuse:
- Family history of substance abuse
- Personal history of substance abuse
- A history of criminal activity including legal problems such as driving under the influence
- Young age
- Living in or being near environments where drug abuse occurs
- Mental or emotional disorders such as depression, anxiety, or bipolar disorder
- General risk-taking behavior
- Stress at work and/or at home
- A prior problem with alcohol
While these factors do not inevitably lead to opioid abuse, the presence of these factors can make you more prone to opioid abuse.
What to do if you or someone you know is addicted?
In order to help a loved one or friend who may be addicted to opioids, you first need to recognize the signs. We are best equipped to intervene and help someone if we are able to see the early warning signs.
There are indicators we can watch out for in our friends and loved ones that may alert us to a problem:
- Do you notice them taking more of their medication than usual?
- Are they spending more time using or recovering from the drug?
- Do they appear to crave the drug? (Becoming distracted or agitated when they do not take it, for example).
- Are they losing control of responsibilities at work, school, or at home?
- Do they continue to use the drug even after it has led to problems?
- Do they appear to be taking the drug to get high?
- Are they experiencing withdrawal symptoms?
Any of these signs indicates a potential problem. The earlier we recognize addiction, the more responsive people are to treatment. Intervening with a friend or loved one may be difficult, but it could save their lives in the long run.
If someone you know is addicted to opioids, that person will likely need treatment in a professional setting. Opioid addiction is difficult to overcome. The withdrawal symptoms are painful and often lead people to go right back to using the drugs.
Professional, medically proven treatment is available for opioid addiction.
How should you store and dispose of opioids to protect family members?
In order to protect everyone in the home, opioids need to be stored safely. There are also protocols for properly disposing of opioids.
Teenagers and young adults are the most at risk for abusing opioids. Do not leave opioid medications in places where they are easily available.
All opioids should be stored in a locked cabinet, lockbox or other locations where people cannot find easy access.
Keep track of how much you have taken to ensure that you are able to tell if someone else is taking them.
Experts advise you to contact the police if you suspect that someone is taking you opioid medications.
Again, because opioids are so frequently abused, it is essential that you properly dispose of all unused medications.
Many medications come with proper disposal methods printed on the label. Some of these will instruct you to flush the opioid medications down the toilet. Many states now forbid flushing unused medications down the toilet.
There are now collection programs for prescription medications including opioids. The FDA provides a full list of states that have these programs and where to find them. They also provide a detailed list of all medications that are safe to flush down the toilet.
How is Opioid Abuse treated?
Opioid abuse and addiction treatment are now widely available. The treatments are based on science and are proven effective.
Since withdrawal from opioids causes uncomfortable and painful withdrawal symptoms, the first order of treatment is usually a medically assisted detox. The most common medications used for opioid detox are Methadone and Buprenorphine. These medications will alleviate to eliminate withdrawal symptoms. They must be administered by a physician and they are not a “cure” for opioid abuse or addiction.
There are a variety of options for both inpatient and outpatient opioid abuse treatment. Riverwalk Ranch provides numerous treatment modalities that are designed to meet the needs of anyone who is dealing with opioid abuse or addiction.
Treatment will include a balance of individual therapies and group counseling designed to treat opioid abuse and any underlying issues which may have led to opioid abuse.
Opioid abuse is most often treated with a combination of medical intervention and counseling. This combination has been shown to be the most effective form of treatment for opioid abuse and addiction.
What are the symptoms of an opioid overdose?
Opioid overdose is potentially lethal. If you think someone has overdosed on opioids, call 911 immediately.
There are several key signs of an overdose. Things to watch for include:
- Confusion, acting drunk, or delirium
- Pinpoint pupils
- Extreme drowsiness. Cannot wake up
- Loss of consciousness
- Slowed or irregular breathing
- Cold, clammy skin, or blue tint around the lips or fingernails
Any of these sins could signal a potentially life-threatening condition. Opioids slow respiration and heart rate, and an overdose can lead to a complete loss of respiratory function or cardiac arrest.
Call 911 immediately if you suspect someone has overdosed on opioids.
Opioid Abuse & Addiction Statistics
The statistics for opioid abuse and addiction are staggering.
The number of opioid overdose deaths and opioid addictions has exploded in the United States. Looking at just some of the statistics is illuminating.
- Drug overdose is the leading cause of death in the U.S., and opioids lead all other drugs for overdose deaths.
- There were over 20,000 deaths from prescription opioids overdose in 2015.
- Opioid addiction and overdoses doubled from 1999 to 2008. In 2009, admission to treatment for opioid abuse and addiction was six times the rate from 1999.
- In one year, enough prescriptions for opioids were written to provide a bottle for every home in America.
- (4 percent of the people treated for opioid abuse and addiction said they started with prescription opioids.
- Four out of five heroin users started with prescription opioids.
- Women are more likely to experience chronic pain and are therefore more likely to become addicted to opioids.
These numbers continue to rise due in part to the way opioids have been so freely prescribed and the ready availability of opioid drugs on the streets. The movement from prescription opioids, as we can see above, to heroin and other illegal substances is still far too easy.
Opioid Abuse Treatment
With the growth of the epidemic in opioid abuse, there have been equal advances in the treatment of opioid abuse. Riverwalk Ranch provides numerous treatment modalities that will address your individual needs.
Full medical services and medical counseling are available. You do not need to undergo opioid withdrawal without medical intervention.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Mindfulness Counseling, and Gender-based Therapy Groups are just a few of the scientifically based treatments provided at Riverwalk Ranch.
Opioid abuse and opioid addiction are serious problems with serious consequences. It is crucial to know that these things are treatable, and Riverwalk Ranch provides everything necessary to treat opioid abuse.