Opiates / Opioid Side Effects

Opiate addiction is a serious health disease. If it is not controlled, opiate misuse and addiction can lead to death from overdose. It is important for loved ones to watch out for certain signs of abuse in those they suspect may be using opiates. Opiates are extremely addictive drugs and do leave tangible signs in an abuser’s body, mind and social life. If you see these signs and symptoms of opiate abuse or addiction, please don’t wait to seek help for yourself or your loved ones. Overdose can happen at any moment, so take action now before it is too late.

When a person is abusing or addicted to opiates, they often prioritize obtaining their drug of choice and getting high above all other things. As a result, opiate abuse and addiction have a number of visible signs. If you suspect a friend or family member may be using opiates, you should begin to see changes in these aspects of their life:

  • Financially
  • Professionally
  • Legally
  • Socially
  • Interpersonally

When a person is addicted to opiates, they will do anything they can to obtain the drug. This, of course, means spending money on purchasing opiates. Over time, this pursuit of an opiate high will lead to financial problems.

Further financial signs of opiate abuse include:

  • Asking to borrow money from loved ones
  • Stealing money to pay for opiates
  • Cashing out retirement accounts or life savings to pay for opiates
  • Bankruptcy
  • Forfeit of a home due to inability to pay rent or a mortgage
  • Losing a business because of using business funds to purchase opiates
  • Losing a job because of stealing company funds to purchase opiates

Financial troubles are often closely tied to the legal problems most addicts encounter. Whether they get arrested for buying or possessing opiates illegally or are arrested for driving while under the influence, opiate addicts often have run-ins with the law. Legal fees and paying for bail can quickly add up, putting addicts even further in the hole.

Financial troubles may be exacerbated by professional problems. Addicts often come to work late, leave work early or miss work altogether in order to score their next fix, or because they are high and forget about such obligations. Opiate abuse also affects cognition, which may lead to lower job performance. Similarly, those in school may experience similar issues. Teens or adults attending school may skip classes, score poorly on tests and even lose their chance to graduate due to opiate abuse.

With opiates on the forefront of their mind, addicts often lose sight of activities they were once interested in. If a person stops suddenly caring about a group or club they were a part of, they may be avoiding the group to get high instead. Alternatively, they could have been kicked out of their group because of a showing up to a gathering high or because of something they said while high. These behaviors can easily destroy relationships, which is another common sign of opiate abuse.

Addicts may exhibit these signs interpersonally:

  • Ignoring or avoiding loved ones
  • Forgetting family responsibilities, such as picking a child up from school
  • Starting fights with loved ones
  • Becoming domestically violent with children or romantic partners
  • Lying to loved ones to avoid being caught using opiates

Some other miscellaneous signs of opiate abuse include:  

  • Faking pain related emergencies or hurting themselves intentionally so that they can receive pain medication
  • Having an excess of pill bottles and prescription pads in their home or in their vicinity
  • Not eating
  • Losing a lot of weight
  • Having unexpected mood changes
  • Wearing long sleeves in the summer or warm climates to hide track marks

While it may be difficult to confront your loved one about what you suspect, it’s important to bring up your concerns with them. They may have a variety of reactions, including feeling insulted, angry or accusing you of sabotaging their life. Regardless of these responses, you must encourage them to seek help for their opiate addiction now. Time is of the essence and if proper measures are not taken to address opiate abuse, it could be too late. Opiate abuse spares no one and overdose can be lethal.

Opiate abuse can start to rewire the brain over time and elicit changes in behavior, psychology, and physiology. As a result, you may notice a variety of physical and psychological changes in an opiate addict.

Initial physical symptoms of opiate abuse are:

  • Dry mouth
  • Constipation
  • Feeling lightheaded
  • Feeling euphoric and overly elated
  • Constricted pupils
  • Lack of coordination
  • Sleeping too much
  • Nausea and vomiting

More severe and serious symptoms may start to occur if help is not received.

Severe symptoms include:

  • Slowed heartbeat
  • Slowed or shallow breathing
  • Dizziness / Drowsiness
  • Low blood pressure

Psychological symptoms of opiate abuse are:

  • Confusion
  • Loss of appetite
  • Irritability
  • Mood swings
  • Depression

Opiate abusers are also at an increased risk for certain health concerns, including HIV due to intravenous use of opiates. Additionally, intravenous opiate use can also lead to an increased risk of hepatitis. All opiate users also regularly risk experiencing overdose, which is a medical emergency and can easily turn lethal if not treated immediately.

The longer a person abuses opiates, the more at risk they are for causing serious, and sometimes permanent damage. Long-term health effects of opiate abuse include damages to various parts of the body such as the brain, heart, central nervous system and other major organs. Opiate abuse can affect pregnancy and cause adverse health effects in fetuses and newborn babies.

Some long-term effects of opiate abuse include:

  • A weakened immune system
  • Gastrointestinal issues, such as constipation and bowel obstruction
  • Respiratory depression
  • Blood infections
  • Bloodborne illnesses
  • Vein collapse
  • Coma
  • Skin abscesses
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Impotence
  • Brain damage and loss of cognitive abilities
  • Dental problems
  • Addiction

It is important to remember that the whole point of abusing the drug is to feel the “high” that comes with taking the drug. However, when a person gets used to the feeling or reaches tolerance, the amount of drug they have been taking will not suffice any longer. Gradually, the dosage will start to increase, which will result in severely deleterious effects on the human body. Many parts of the body are affected.

Pregnant women who are addicted to opiates not only put their own bodies at risk, but they also put their babies at risk for addiction in utero as well as after they are born. According to a recent study, roughly 2.3 percent of pregnancies every year involve prenatal heroin or methadone exposure.

Prenatal opiate exposure risks:

  • Preterm delivery
  • Infant opiate addiction
  • Newborn withdrawal
  • HIV-positive infants
  • Hepatitis-positive infants
  • Neonatal abstinence syndrome, including tremors, convulsions and respiratory distress
  • Infant resistance to soothing or cuddling
  • Abnormal infant interaction with visual or auditory stimuli

As prenatally opiate-exposed children grow, preliminary reports show a prevalence of hyperactivity, short attention span and sleep disturbances in small children. Other studies show some mild memory deficits and perceptual difficulties in older children, and depression in young adulthood. While the data is still fully unclear as to how prenatal opiate exposure affects children, it is best for pregnant mothers to avoid opiate abuse and get help for their addiction during pregnancy.

Addiction does not spare anyone regardless of age, gender, socioeconomic status, upbringing or sexuality. While there is no cure, addiction can be treated. If signs and symptoms are recognized early, the chance of recovery is high. Attending treatment centers with trusted professionals and a great support system is one of the best decisions that can be made in this time of crisis. Treatment will consist of detoxification, evaluation, and a customized program to help fight the disease. The Recovery Village understands the challenges and will help you during every step of your journey.

Bosari, Jessica. “The Cost of Addiction on Families.” Forbes . Forbes, 19 July 2012. Web. 17 Mar. 2017. https://www.forbes.com/sites/moneywisewomen/2012/06/19/the-cost-of-addiction-on-families/#249a0fd35097. Accessed 17 Mar 2017.

Davies, Julian. “Prenatal Opiate Exposure.” Center for Adoption Medicine, 11 July 2006, adoptmed.org/topics/prenatal-opiate-exposure.html. Accessed 19 Mar. 2017.

Foundation for a Drug-Free world. “Long-Term Side Effects of Heroin.” Foundation for a Drug-Free World, www.drugfreeworld.org/drugfacts/heroin/long-term-effects.html. Accessed 19 Mar. 2017.

Medical Disclaimer: The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.

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