Do you suspect that someone you care about is misusing, abusing, or addicted to painkillers? Maybe you’ve discovered evidence of missing pills from your personal opioid prescription. Or maybe you’re concerned about a loved one’s behavior after they started taking pain pills for an injury or surgery. Or perhaps something is different and you just can’t quite figure out what’s off about the person you know and love so well.
If you suspect that your spouse, child, or other loved one may be abusing painkillers or have an opioid addiction, here are 12 signs to watch for.
12 Common Signs of Opioid Abuse
#1: Increased or Ongoing Use
It’s common for people taking painkillers to grow tolerant to the effects of their prescribed dose. If you notice a family member increasing their dose beyond the amount prescribed by their doctor, it could be a sign that they have developed a tolerance. Taking opioids in a manner other than prescribed is known as opioid misuse, and it could be a warning sign for abuse.
Similarly, if you notice a family member continuing to take prescription painkillers after their condition has improved, it could be a warning sign of misuse or abuse. Your loved one may complain that they’re still feeling pain and need to extend their prescription or complain about a doctor who refused to extend their prescription.
#2: Unusual Drowsiness
There can be real reasons a loved one is unusually tired: parents can feel often feel fatigued from the efforts of raising children, working, and managing complex family schedules. Teens may stay up too late studying or visiting with friends and be worse for the wear the next day.
But if someone you know appears to be unusually tired, it could also be a sign of opioid abuse. Symptoms of opioid use can include drooping eyes and may look like they’re about to fall asleep. Your loved one may begin nodding off in the middle of a conversation, during a TV show, or at the dinner table, or skipping out on activities because they’re “too tired” to attend. If your normally active teen or spouse stops working out or skips sports practice because they’re too tired, it could be a sign of opioid abuse.
#3: Changing Sleep Habits
Opioid abuse can lead to changing sleep habits. They may sleep excessively or for longer than usual (or at unusual times and places, like we just discussed). They may also have periods of sleep that are shortened or even non-existent when they run out of their painkillers and experience withdrawal symptoms. Also look for changes in sleep patterns such as staying up and awake all night and sleeping all day.
#4: Changes in Appearance
Opioid use can lead to metabolic changes and changes in the reward center of the brain that could result in weight loss. With opioid abuse, hygiene or personal appearance may suffer. Your loved one may stop caring about the way they look, how they smell, or about their cleanliness.
Physical signs that someone is high on opioids can include red, glazed eyes, drooping tired-looking eyes, pinpoint pupils that stay constricted regardless of lighting, flushed face and neck, a constant cough or runny nose, slurred speech, an intense calm, or nodding head.
#5: Persistent Flu-like Symptoms
Painkiller withdrawal can present flu-like symptoms and feelings. Fever, headache, nausea, runny nose, dilated pupils, vomiting, joint pain, and severe insomnia can all be signs of opioid withdrawal.
If your loved one seems to constantly swing back and forth from “coming down with something” feeling fine, and then back again, it could be a sign of opioid abuse and withdrawal.
Long-term use of opioids can also have a negative effect on the immune system, making the user more susceptible to actual viruses and infections.
#6: Decreased Libido
One of the side-effects of opioid use can include libido and sexual function. Opioid use can have hormonal effects, such as lowering testosterone and estrogen levels which are needed for normal sexual function. It can also result in menstrual period changes.
#7: Changes in Personal Relationships
People addicted to painkillers may suddenly start to lose or damage long standing relationships. Frequent intoxication can make it difficult for them to maintain existing friendships and social activities. They may avoid people in order to hide their drug use, becoming more isolated or finding new friends who also engage in similar behaviors.
Unexplained credit card charges, unusual cash withdrawals, or larger-than-normal purchases at grocery stores or gas stations could signal that your loved one is purchasing painkillers or illicit opioid drugs. For parents of teens and pre-teens, disappearing cash from allowances, part-time jobs, or birthday/holidays with no visible purchases could signal an abuse issue.
#9: Missing Cash or Belongings
When cash isn’t available, someone addicted to painkillers may turn to theft. If items are missing, they may have been pawned to pay for opioids. If cash is missing from your wallet or purse, it may have been stolen by a loved one or family member to purchase more painkillers or illicit street drugs.
#10: Changes in School or Work Performance
Opioids can diminish one’s ability to focus, pay attention, and concentrate. And that can interfere with work and school performance. It can be difficult to perform while intoxicated from opioids, and just as hard to focus if experiencing withdrawal symptoms. If your loved one begins missing days of work, leaving school or work early, or begins bringing home poor grades or performance reviews, it could be a sign of painkiller abuse.
Your loved one may become secretive as they try to hide their abuse from you. You may catch them lying about where they’ve been, who they’ve been with, or what they’ve been spending money on. They may speak differently with friends and use street names for drugs — speaking in a code that you don’t understand. They might become more guarded with their cell phones, computers/tablets, rooms, purses, briefcases, or school bags.
#12: Extreme Defensiveness
If a loved one is abusing painkillers, they may become extremely defensive when confronted about their abuse. They may overreact to the simplest questions or lash out. They may try to change the conversation by attacking and placing blame on anyone who tries to question their behavior.
If you suspect that your loved one is abusing painkillers, you don’t have to face this challenge alone. Support groups for families and friends of addicts can help mothers, fathers, siblings, spouses, and partners to navigate the waters of a loved one’s addiction. These groups offer resources, information, help, and a caring community. Opioid abuse has reached epidemic levels in America, and if you suspect your loved ones of a painkiller addiction, you don’t have to face it alone.