12 Signs Someone You Love Has a Painkiller Problem

The numbers are truly alarming: It’s estimated that between 26.4 million and 36 million people worldwide suffer from substance use disorders to prescription opioid pain relievers, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Is your loved one among those millions? The answer to this question might not be easy to answer, at least at first. “There are opioid addicts that have no outward obvious or subtle signs,” says Michael Baron, MD, MPH, FASAM, a Nashville-based triple board-certified psychiatrist and specialist in chronic pain and addiction. “They go to work, church, their kids’ sports games and seem like the perfect spouse or parent — until they get caught trying to fill a fraudulent prescription.”

As with other types of addiction, the longer someone is actively struggling with an addiction to painkillers like hydrocodone and oxycodone, the more signs there are apt to be. These, says Dr. Baron include changes in your loved one’s habits that cannot otherwise be explained, such as:

• Drowsiness. The person who’s addicted starts nodding off in the middle of conversations, at the dinner table or while watching TV or a movie. (Opioids are depressants, causing breathing to become very shallow in extreme cases; that’s how an overdose happens.)
• A change in sleep habits. The individual’s sleep may become prolonged or excessive at times, and then shortened or even non-existent when he or she runs out of the drug.
• A lack of hygiene. “What was once important, such as being clean-shaven or having their hair done, may change to a gruff look or an out-of-style coif,” says Baron.
• Frequent flu-like symptoms. In the case of an addiction to opioids nausea, fever and headache aren’t the flu, but rather signs of withdrawal when someone can’t get more of the drug.
• Weight loss. “Generally, an opioid addict may lose weight from metabolic changes and changes that occur in the reward center of the brain,” Baron explains.
• Changes in exercise habits and/or energy level. Someone who once worked out regularly might give up exercise altogether, feeling too lethargic to do much of anything.
• Decreased libido. Opioid use lowers testosterone and estrogen levels, which are needed for normal libido and sexual function, as well as processes such as maintaining muscle mass and bone density. Says Baron, “This can be subtle and blamed on many other causes, making it the most elusive symptom of opioid addiction.”
• Reappearance of old habits. For example, the person may begin smoking cigarettes again after a long hiatus.
• Loss of relationships. Friendships that were once important may drop in the individual’s estimation or even end.
• Theft. If you notice items missing it may be that they’ve been pawned to pay for painkillers or heroin.
• Overspending. Unexplained credit card charges may appear on monthly statements.
• Changes in work habits such as excessive absences and missing meetings or deadlines “Employment is one of the last losses that occur,” says Baron.

Your own intuition might be the most telling “sign,” says Baron: “It is very important to trust your instinct. An active addict will make you think your eyes are lying to you.”

The Worst-Case Scenario: Overdose

12 Signs Someone You Love Has a Painkiller ProblemThe most important reason to spot an opioid addiction as early as possible is, of course, to avoid your partner, child, friend or family member overdosing. “The signs of opioid overdose are the classic triad of pinpoint pupils, unconsciousness and respiratory depression,” explains Baron. And if you mix a painkiller with any other sedative or with alcohol, the odds of overdose increase significantly since the combined depressant effect of the drugs is even greater.

Other overdose risk factors include:

• Heroin. Heroin is much cheaper and more accessible than prescription painkillers and provides much the same high. Because heroin — unlike prescription medication — is unregulated, it can be mixed or cut with anything. “We’ve had a recent rash of overdose deaths because heroin was cut with fentanyl, a very powerful opioid that’s 100 times stronger than morphine,” Baron notes. “Since heroin is a black market drug it is not labeled and there is really no way to know what the drug really is that is being used.”

• Intravenous (IV) drug use. When swallowed, a drug can be removed by induced vomiting. But that’s not the case with injected drugs since the substance isn’t absorbed gradually by the body, but rather immediately. “When a drug is injected it is all there at one time and cannot be taken back,” explains Baron.

Prescription drug addiction can happen to anyone. Your loved one might not fit the description of what you think is a “typical” addict, but if they’re using prescription painkillers beyond what their doctor has recommended, there is a problem and they are at risk of overdosing. If you suspect your loved one is addicted to prescription pain relievers, talk to a doctor, an addiction specialist or a treatment center. The good news is that painkiller addiction is treatable.

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8 Responses to 12 Signs Someone You Love Has a Painkiller Problem

  1. Fran Scholl June 25, 2015 at 9:11 pm #

    This article basically says that I am an addict! There is a VAST difference between and addict and a person (like me ) whom is dependant on pain medication. An addict is one whom takes the medication but does NOT or no longer need the medication. A dependant person is one that (like me) needs pain medication to have a mere resemblance of a life! My pain is from a very well documented injury that required four + surgeries two in one year. More on horizon. It effects all aspects of my life! What really upsets me is that if I had a choice I would not take these meds at all! YES there is a problem. YES there needs to be a solution. NO I should not have to suffer the many indignities I do from people that are fast to judge and are ignorant to the facts of my DEPENDENCY! I am 54 and should be looming forward to a long and happy retirement. Longevity runs in my family.. But no I can no longer do ANY of the activities that I love with my husband or family. I am now totally PHYSICALLY disabled. PLEASE also spread the word that a NON narcotic answer needs to be found! By the way I have trend EVERY Alternative this is out there and will try any new ones that I find! This is my life of DEPENDANCY!

  2. Carla June 26, 2015 at 4:51 pm #

    Most of these signs are also signs of pain, I’ve had 3 surgeries in the l0 months and let me tell you pain interupts your sleep, your exercise routines, your eating habits, your mood.. your life. Before for the intervention you may just want to ask how you can help. Ask for a list and go do groceries for that person, cook a few meals so they don’t have to etc..

  3. Tina Smith July 29, 2015 at 6:23 am #

    dependancy and addiction are 2 different things. Addicts take their drugs for the high and actively seek n more drugs any way they can get them. They live for the high. Can’t get enough. Dependancy is caused by using a certain substance on a daily basis and ur body becomes dependant. People with pain syndromes like me need these thing to get thru daily life. Many many drugs people become dependant on. Anti depressants opoid pain relievers, steroids , and many more. Just becuz one uses them on a daily basis doesnt mean ur addicted. We take them responsibly, as prescribed. Yes our bodies become used to them. Abuse is the key word. And to get off of these things one must be weened under a drs care. So to those who fear addiction. Be responsible. Take as directed. Dependancy is a given. It happens with long term use.

  4. Angel August 1, 2015 at 3:59 pm #

    I completely agree with all of you who have commented about the difference between and addict and a person dependant on the medication, the biggest difference that’s not mentioned is also the behavior of an addict vs. a chemically dependant person… An addict lies, cheats, steals, “down plays” actions, constantly blames everyone else etc… A chemically dependant person may get defensive because they are automatically labeled an addict if they have a prescription for a long period of time, however they can also function on a day to day basis, doesn’t lie, cheat or steal to gain access to the drugs, most importantly prescriptions last the duration of the prescription (a months supply lasts a month)… So before judging or assuming someone is an addict vs chemically dependant make sure you have your facts and symptoms correct before labeling someone an addict and staging an all out intervention…

  5. Sherry August 2, 2015 at 5:37 am #

    Addicts don’t take drugs for the high. Addicts take drugs because the highly addictive qualities of these drugs have taken over their brain, bodies, lives and worlds. If you are taking these pills you are addicted too. These meds aren’t selective in whom they hook. It doesn’t matter why you take them. If you do, you are hooked. The drug companies made them this way. They leave no one behind.

    • DeDe September 17, 2016 at 6:00 pm #

      You are ignorant. Please try educating yourself before posting your “opinion.”

      • Jenny October 14, 2016 at 9:54 pm #

        You are ignorant! People have a right to speak how they feel without you calling them names. Are you an addict?

  6. JD November 10, 2016 at 1:31 pm #

    DeDe,

    Unfortunately, Sherry is correct. If you have been taking Oxycodone, Lortabs, etc. every day for a year or more, you are hooked. Call it what you wish, but try going cold turkey and let me know how many days you make it.

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