Recognize Opioid Abuse: Signs & Symptoms to Identify Addiction

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Opioid abuse is a growing epidemic that is affecting millions of people worldwide. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, in 2018, around 128 people died daily from opioid overdose in the United States alone. 

Opioid abuse can occur in various forms, and it can be challenging to identify if a loved one is struggling with addiction. This article will discuss how to tell if a loved one is abusing opioids.

Understanding Opioid Abuse

Opioids are a class of drugs that include prescription painkillers such as oxycodone, hydrocodone, and morphine, as well as illegal drugs like heroin. When taken, opioids bind to receptors in the brain and produce feelings of pleasure and euphoria, making them highly addictive. Opioid abuse occurs when a person takes opioids in ways other than prescribed or takes more than the specified amount.

Who Are at Increased Risk?

Various factors can increase a person’s risk of opioid addiction. Firstly, genetics can play a role in addiction susceptibility. 

If a person has a family history of substance abuse, they may have a higher likelihood of developing an opioid addiction. Secondly, environmental factors such as peer pressure, stress, trauma, and exposure to drug use can also increase the risk of addiction. 

Additionally, prolonged use of opioids can lead to physical dependence and tolerance, which can escalate into addiction over time. Lastly, individuals with pre-existing mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety, or bipolar disorder may be at a higher risk of opioid addiction, as opioids can temporarily relieve their symptoms.

Signs of Opioid Abuse

1. Physical Symptoms

One of the most common signs of opioid abuse is physical symptoms. Opioids affect the body in various ways, and these effects can be visible. Some physical symptoms of opioid abuse include:

  • Constricted pupils
  • Drowsiness or nodding off
  • Slurred speech
  • Shallow breathing
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Constipation
  • Itching or scratching

2. Behavioral Changes

Opioid abuse can cause significant changes in a person’s behavior. They may become secretive, withdrawn, or exhibit mood swings. Typical behavioral changes that may indicate opioid abuse include:

  • Social isolation
  • Neglecting responsibilities
  • Financial problems
  • Legal issues
  • Lying or stealing
  • Aggression or irritability
  • Lack of motivation
  • Changes in sleep patterns

3. Psychological Symptoms

Opioid abuse can also affect a person’s mental health. They may experience anxiety, depression, or other psychological symptoms. Some psychological symptoms of opioid abuse include:

  • Mood swings
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Paranoia
  • Hallucinations
  • Delusions

4. Drug Paraphernalia

If you suspect a loved one is abusing opioids, you may find drug paraphernalia around their living space. This could include:

  • Syringes or needles
  • Burnt spoons or aluminum foil
  • Small plastic bags or balloons
  • Pill bottles or empty pill casings

What to Do if You Suspect Opioid Abuse

If you suspect that a loved one is abusing opioids, it is essential to take action. It’s important to remember that opioid abuse is a severe condition that requires professional help. Here are some steps you can take:

1. Talk to Them

The first step is to talk to your loved one about your concerns. Be prepared for them to deny or downplay their opioid use. Try to approach the conversation with empathy and understanding, and avoid being confrontational or judgmental.

2. Seek Professional Help

If your loved one struggles with opioid abuse, they will need professional help. This could include medication-assisted treatment, counseling, or an addiction treatment center. Speak to a healthcare professional or addiction specialist to determine the best action.

3. Support Them

Recovery from opioid addiction can be a long and challenging process. It’s essential to support your loved one throughout their recovery journey. This could include attending online therapy sessions with them, helping them find support groups in their area, or simply being there to listen and offer encouragement.


Opioid abuse is a severe condition that can have devastating consequences. If you suspect that a loved one is abusing opioids, taking action is essential. 

Remember, opioid addiction is a treatable condition, and with the right help and support through addiction treatment services, your loved one can overcome it.

Do you need help? Next Step Medical Services is an online therapy platform with licensed therapists in Texas who provide services via video, chat, or phone. We provide urgent care treatment at your fingertips for addiction and other mental health problems.

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