Opiate addiction has become an epidemic in the United States. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse and estimated 2.1 million people in the United States are addicted to prescription opioid painkillers and an estimated 467,000 addicted to heroin. For more information please visit:
Increasingly I have seen clients who have either a romantic partner or a family member who is suffering from opioid abuse. Review the following red flags to determine if someone in your life may be struggling with opioid abuse:
- They use old painkiller prescriptions: You may find your loved one using old or expired painkillers from past surgeries or injuries. When you ask about their use, they may become defensive or secretive. They may accuse you of being unsupportive of their illness or pain condition.
- You find (or suspect they are hiding) pills: You may find pills that are clearly being hidden. Others just suspect their partner is hiding pills due to the other behavioral signs.
- They experience paranoia: You may notice your loved one becoming increasing paranoid about yours or others behavior. Sometimes the paranoia may be subtle. For instance one client reported his wife believing her family was excluding her from events and talking about her. Other times the paranoia may be more obvious. For example another client’s partner believed someone had left him a “bomb” in a shoebox which had clearly been left by neighborhood kids playing a harmless prank.
- Changes in sleep patterns: Usually the opiate addict is oversleeping or not getting enough sleep. You may find that your loved one is sleeping more, or falls asleep at inopportune times (at the dinner table, watching TV or even in the middle of a conversation). The term used for this is “nodding off.” If your loved one is withdrawing they may need very little sleep or experience insomnia.
- Irritability: You may notice your loved one becoming increasingly more irritable and short of patience.
- They experience flu-like symptoms: When will notice flu-like symptoms when your loved one is experiencing withdraw. They may complain of, or you may notice he/she experiencing nausea, headaches, sweating, joint pain, etc.
- Low or no sexual desire: Opiates can change hormone levels that influence sexual desire. When using it may be near impossible for the male addict to get or maintain an erection, and for the female addict to experience physical changes associated with arousal.
- Changes in lifestyle: Your loved one may stop engaging in activities they once enjoyed such as exercising or spending time with family or friends.
- Money or property is missing: You may notice valuables start to disappear. Another sign may be unexplained cash withdraws from bank accounts or large charges on credit cards.
- Appearance changes: Your loved one may start caring less about their appearance, looking disheveled or unclean at times. He/she may neglect basic self-care and grooming.
Opiate addiction is extremely powerful and difficult to overcome. While you cannot force your loved one into treatment or sober living, you can seek support for yourself. Counseling can be beneficial for you to set healthy boundaries with your loved one, help you cope with your own emotional reactions regarding the abuse, decrease any enabling or codependent behavior you may be engaging in, and finally to make more difficult decisions about the relationship if your loved one won’t get help (separation, divorce, a period of no contact, etc.).