A pain pills addiction is no less serious than an alcohol or opiate addiction. What makes such an addiction particularly frightening, however, is that it represents a good thing gone wrong.
Most people are legitimately prescribed painkillers for long-term pain management, such as after a major surgery. Pain pills seem harmless in this scenario. However, when the painkillers are no longer needed, care must be taken to wean off of them to avoid the effects of a pain pills addiction.
If the prescription is ceased “cold turkey,” powerful withdrawal symptoms or cravings can set in. Unfortunately, this means someone with a pain pills addiction may look for alternative sources of medication, including the medicine cabinets of friends and family. Addiction can have an incredibly powerful hold on the mind, and if pain pills can’t be found easily or are simply too expensive to buy on the black market, people addicted to painkillers often begin using heroin as a cheaper alternative. Both heroin and prescription painkillers belong to the class of drugs known as opioids.
Prescription painkillers are powerful drugs that do their job well; they help people suffering from extreme pain to relax. But that relaxation effect can be abused to produce a high. And while most people who abuse prescription painkillers start innocently with a legitimate opioid prescription, others are aware of the high-inducing power of pain pills and will take advantage of friends or family with prescriptions.
So the first sign and most obvious sign that your loved one may have a pain pills addiction is a history of prescription painkiller use. If your family member or friend has approached you on multiple occasions to “borrow” one of your pills, you are right to be concerned about their health.
But many people are aware of their addiction and try to keep it hidden in order to avoid legal ramifications. You may have to be alert for other signs that your loved one is abusing pain pills, which may include the following:
- Sudden Changes in Spending Habits. Buying pain pills from black market dealers costs a pretty penny. If you notice your loved one is suddenly withdrawing large sums of money from his or her bank account, there may be a problem. Also look for signs of missed bill payment or other concerning financial activity.
- If cash is low, your family member or friend might be desperate enough to steal from you and pawn the items for quick drug money. If you have recently been burgled, consider the fact that the thief may be someone you know.
- Constricted Pupils. Opioids can cause pupils to become constricted (looking like pin pricks), even in low-light conditions. On the other hand, when the effects of the opioid painkillers wear off and withdrawal sets in, the pupils can become abnormally large and dilated.
- Intense Itching. A common side effect of opioid use is itching. If your loved one seems to have developed itching as a tic or nervous habit, it could be yet another sign of a pain pills addiction.
- Weight Loss or Low Libido. The reward center of the brain is responsible for all things pleasurable. In a healthy brain, food and sex provide the most pleasurable experiences. But in a brain that is experiencing the effects of opioid addiction, opioids take center stage. This means metabolism and libido may change, and that your loved one may actually forget to eat.
- Frequent Flu-like Symptoms. Opioid painkiller withdrawal is characterized by flu-like symptoms such as fatigue, a runny nose, vomiting and diarrhea, and even chills. If your loved one complains of “having the flu” every other week, he or she may actually be experiencing the unpleasant withdrawal symptoms of a pain pills addiction.
- Change in Sleeping Habits. Addiction to painkillers can cause insomnia. Your loved one may take naps during the day or stay up for hours at night.
- Daytime Drowsiness or Low Energy. As a result of poor sleep, someone who has a painkiller addiction may be lethargic, extremely fatigued or have trouble staying awake during the day.
- Poor Hygiene. A lack of self-care is a sign of several behavioral health concerns, including a pain pills addiction. If your loved one usually never leaves the house without looking pristine and is suddenly going out after not having showered for three days, something serious may be going on.
- Strained or Lost Relationships. When someone has an addiction, the addiction becomes the most important thing in their life. It is a powerful affliction. As a result, relationships may take a sour turn if the addict no longer has the capacity to nurture friendships or relationships.
- Frequently Missing Work or Being Fired Altogether. As the addiction drags on, the addict may lose all sense of responsibility and not show up to work or perform poorly on the job, which may result in him or her being dismissed.
Note that many of these potential signs of a pain pills addiction are also associated with other behavioral health concerns, including alcohol addiction or major depression. Although you may not be able to determine the exact cause of your loved one’s troubles, the presence of many of these signs indicates a health problem. Encourage your loved one to consult with a medical professional for treatment, or contact us for additional advice on how to encourage your loved one to get appropriate help.
By Cathy Habas