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How Do I Know If I Have an Opioid Painkiller Addiction?

You can become addicted to prescription opioids, or painkillers, while following a treatment regimen from you doctor. Taking opioids to prevent withdrawal symptoms is a sign of dependence and can lead to negative behaviors indicative of addiction.
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Prescription pain pills called opioids are commonly used to treat minor to severe pain. When taken properly, the medications can greatly improve an individual’s quality of life. But opioids also have a massive addiction liability.

Painkillers such as oxycodone, hydrocodone and codeine are some of the most addictive substances available. In the United States, overprescribing of these medications has helped fuel the worst drug epidemic in history.

The opioid epidemic has become so bad that Americans — who make up less than 5 percent of the global population — consume nearly 80 percent of the world’s opioid supply, according to the American Society of Interventional Pain Physicians.

Some people who take opioids and comply with their doctor’s orders become addicted unintentionally. Tolerance develops throughout treatment and requires patients to take larger doses to feel the same level of pain relief.

Over time, opioids can cause physical changes in the brain that lead to compulsive drug use, intense cravings and harmful behaviors. A variety of signs and symptoms could indicate that an individual is addicted to prescription opioids and needs rehab treatment to reach recovery.

Getting Sick When You Stop Taking Your Pills

One of the most telling signs of addiction is taking opioids to avoid withdrawal rather than to relieve pain. Those who are physically dependent on painkillers experience withdrawal symptoms when they stop taking the medication.

Physical dependence occurs when the brain becomes reliant on a drug to properly function. Withdrawal symptoms can be uncomfortable, and they often drive people to use opioids to prevent them from occurring.

According to the U.S. Library of Medicine, opioid withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Anxiety
  • Agitation
  • Sweating
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Nausea
  • Abdominal cramping

Most people who become physically dependent on opioids after legitimate pain treatment can taper off the drugs without developing a substance use disorder. However, physical dependence can also reinforce behaviors that contribute to the development of an addiction, which is characterized by uncontrollable cravings and compulsive opioid use.

Taking More Opioids than Prescribed

Taking painkillers in higher doses or frequencies than prescribed is a sign of opioid abuse. People who have developed a tolerance to opioids may be tempted to increase their dosage without consulting their doctor.

“When these drugs were first promoted, there was this feeling that if patients have chronic pain they can’t get addicted on opioids. It turns out that nothing can be further from the truth.”

Dr. Stephen Mudra, Chief, Primary Pain Management, North Florida/South Georgia Veteran Health System

As people naturally become less responsive to the painkilling effects of opioids over time, they may exceed the recommended dose by taking an extra half of a pill or even doubling their dosage. After noticing that higher doses produce the desired effects, they might be tempted to misuse their medications regularly.

Several forms of opioid abuse exist. It can involve taking high doses of medicine, taking someone else’s medicine or using prescription opioids to get high. Abusing opioids increases the risk of developing addiction.

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Filling Multiple Prescriptions or Doctor Shopping

Have you gone to multiple doctors to get more opioid prescriptions? Have you faked symptoms or deceived doctors to get more opioids? Visiting multiple doctors and lying to obtain prescription drugs is known as doctor shopping.

According to Mayo Clinic, signs of prescription drug abuse can include:

  • Stealing or forging prescriptions
  • Pretending to lose prescriptions to receive more
  • Visiting multiple doctors for prescriptions

Manipulating the system to obtain multiple opioid prescriptions is a strong indicator that an individual is addicted. Additionally, doctor shopping is an illegal behavior that comes with stiff legal penalties in many states.

Continuing to Take Opioids Despite Consequences

Have you tried to stop taking opioids or cut back on your use without success? Does the thought of going a full day without taking a painkiller scare you or make you feel worried?

The psychological grasp of opioid addiction is strong. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, people who can’t stop taking opioids when the drugs are causing negative consequences in their lives are probably facing an opioid addiction.

Opioid use disorders are characterized by intense and uncontrollable drug cravings and persistent, obsessive thoughts about using prescription painkillers. As the addiction worsens, people lose control and compulsively use the drug. Over time, the addiction results in self-destructive behaviors.

Negative behaviors related to opioid addiction may include:

  • Being arrested for opioid use
  • Overdosing
  • Stealing from loved ones and friends to buy opioids
  • Lying to obtain or use opioids
  • Isolating yourself
  • Hurting relationships with people you care about

Although people may want to stop these behaviors, their opioid addiction often causes them to continue engaging in damaging thoughts and actions.

Buying Pills Illegally

Buying pills off the street is one of the most common signs of opioid addiction. Using street opioids is illegal, dangerous and unpredictable. It often has devastating consequences.

One of the biggest risks of using street opioids is that individuals never truly know what substance they are buying. Drug dealers frequently claim their drugs are prescription opioids such as OxyContin, but it’s likely that these drugs are altered or fake. Street painkillers may contain dangerous synthetic opioids such as fentanyl or carfentanil, which have been linked to mass overdoses and deaths across the United States.

Additionally, those who buy street pills also run a higher risk of using heroin. Drug dealers frequently sell heroin, an illicit opioid, as a much cheaper alternative to prescription opioids. A new wave of heroin addiction in the United States has resulted from people turning to heroin to get high or to alleviate withdrawal symptoms when their painkiller addiction has become too costly.

How to Get Help for Opioid Abuse

Researching the signs of an opioid use disorder could indicate that you or a loved one needs substance abuse treatment. Opioid addiction can affect anyone — even people who are prescribed opioid medications by doctors.

According to the 2016 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, more than 41.4 million Americans 12 or older used pain relievers in the past year. Among this group, more than 2.1 million people had an opioid use disorder.

Rehab treatment is the safest and most effective way to overcome an opioid use disorder. Most treatment programs help people achieve sobriety using a combination of behavioral therapy and medication-assisted treatments such as buprenorphine and methadone. Seeking help from a qualified treatment center could be the difference between healthy recovery and a life full of harm and consequences.

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