Physical and Psychological Signs of Drug and Opioid Addiction

Drug addiction, especially opioid addiction, is a national health crisis. According to The Edge, a treatment center, 22 million people suffer from active substance use disorders, and 43 million people are directly impacted by addiction. (1) Currently, the United States is in the middle of opioid epidemic. The Department of Health and Human Services estimated that in 2019, 10.1 million people aged 12 or older misused opioids in the past year. Specifically, 9.7 million people misused prescription pain relievers, and 745,000 people used heroin. (2). It’s clear that many Americans are in the depths of an active drug addiction. However, the signs of a drug addiction, and the physical signs of drug addiction, may not be as clear to some. Portrayals of the signs of a drug addiction in media can be anywhere from overtly done to romanticized too just plain wrong. Since opioid addiction usually starts off with doctor prescribed drugs, it might be easy to miss the psychological symptoms of opioid addiction. So, what are the signs of a drug addiction? What are the physical signs of drug addiction? And how can you tell the difference between normal symptoms of doctor prescribed opioid use and the psychological symptoms of opioid addiction?

opioid addiction

Physical Signs of a Drug Addiction

The signs of a drug addiction can be anywhere from extremely apparent to subtle. There are physical signs of drug addiction, as well as psychological. Some physical signs of drug addiction are:

  • Bloodshot red eyes
  • Pinpoint and/or dilated pupils
  • Unregular puffiness and flushed, washed out skin color
  • Constant itching in specified areas of the body
  • Always pulling down sleeves to hide marks on body
  • Slow, slurred speech
  • Constant sniffling

Some of these, if isolated, can come off as strange behavioral jerks or tics. But if you notice any of these constantly and mixed together, they can be the physical signs of drug addiction. Other long term physical signs of drug addiction are drastic weight loss or gain, a lack of hygiene and personal grooming, and hyper or under attentiveness. Some signs of a drug addiction aren’t noticeable on the actual person, but on things you find in their room or car. Cirque Lodge’s website describes some of these indicators as:

  • Cigarette wrapping papers
  • Pipes
  • Syringes
  • Rolled up banknotes
  • Cut-up straws
  • Soiled cotton swabs
  • Lighters
  • Burnt spoons or bottle caps
  • Bongs
  • Razor blades
  • “Cutting” surfaces like mirrors or glass (3)

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Opioid Addiction

Opioids are a type of drug that are used to treat many different issues. Opioids usually are prescribed by a doctor to relieve pain from dental procedures or simple toothaches, bodily injuries, significant or small surgeries, or extreme conditions like cancer. According to Familydoctor.org, “Opioids work by lowering the number of pain signals your body sends to your brain. They also change how your brain responds to pain. When used correctly, opioids are safe. But when people misuse the medicine (opioid use disorder), they can become addicted. People can also become addicted to opioids by using the drug illegally.” (4) Opioids alter our brains by creating artificial endorphins, which literally block pain. Since opioids are used specifically for pain and are usually more than not prescribed by a doctor, it is very easy to become addicted to them. As a society we are programmed to believe that anything given to us by a lab-coat wearing person is usually safe to take, and maybe even take a little more than usual, since it was given to us by someone we trust with various medical degrees and certifications. However, it’s extremely important to only take the exact amount of opioids prescribed by your doctor. Opioids come in the form of many drugs, such as: Opium, Codeine, Fentanyl, Heroin, Hydrocodone, Oxycodone, Hydromorphone, Oxymorphone, Methadone, Morphine, Tramadol.

Psychological Signs of Opioid Addiction

The signs of a drug addiction, especially an opioid addiction, go beyond physical signs; there are many psychological symptoms of opioid addiction. As someone dives deeper into their opioid addiction, they depart with daily routines, hobbies, and interests. Things that once used to give them joy become replaced with the substance. Partner, friend, work, and family relationships all suffer because of the user’s attention to his habit. Overall, the psychological symptoms of opioid addiction can lead to the user becoming someone you don’t even recognize anymore. Here are some specific psychological symptoms of opioid addiction:

  • Having trouble limiting drug intake: If you notice someone is taking higher doses than prescribed or continuing to use the drug after the health problem has ended, they might be abusing opioids.
  • Apathetic toward life: Opioid addiction, and any drug addiction, rob the mind of its reward system. Drug addicts no longer are interested in things they used to take pride in and spend a lot of time indulging in their addiction. Missing commitments, failure to communicate, or a dwindling of talent are all signs something else is taking up someone’s time.
  • Mood Swings: Opioid addiction make the addicts emotional input and output unmanageable. Sudden and drastic irritation, anger, misery, and being upset during instances they used to handle just fine could be psychological symptoms of opioid addiction.  
  • Secretness and Detachment: Addiction causes someone to become reclusive. An addict who has started to notice their life falling apart will feel shame for their actions, therefore wanting to become more isolated. They will not want to hangout with others who aren’t actively using and fear normal situations where drug use isn’t the forefront, so they will rather be alone. This can have a tremendous affect on relationships. Hiding out in their room, constantly locking the doors of their space, being sparse in the details of where they have been, or generally not being descriptive at all or coming off defensive about what they do with their free time are psychological symptoms of opioid addiction.

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Other psychological symptoms of opioid addiction, as well as physical signs are shallow or slow breathing rate, physical agitation, poor decision making, anxiety attacks, and problems with the law or at work.

References:

  1. Addiction Statistics – 2021 – The Edge Treatment Center
  2. Opioid Crisis Statistics | HHS.gov
  3. 10 Signs of Drug Abuse or Addiction – Cirque Lodge
  4. Opioid Addiction – Pain Relief – Signs of Addiction | familydoctor.org