Patient Resources

Is my loved one getting addicted? Opioid addiction help

Patient asking a question
Neil Chatterjee, MD headshot

Medically reviewed by Neil Chatterjee, MD

Addiction can happen to anyone.

Close friends and family members are almost always the best equipped to protect their loved ones—but only if they know how to spot the signs. Unfortunately, identifying addiction can be tricky.

If your loved one is already using a properly prescribed narcotic or is open about their drug behavior, the classic signs of addiction may be easier to spot. These include:

-       lack of control (e.g., unable to stay away from a substance or behavior)

-       ignoring risks (e.g., sharing needles)

-       decreased socialization (e.g., retreating from relationships)

-       physical dependency (e.g., withdrawal symptoms, pursuing higher doses)

Unfortunately, addiction is often more subtle. You will probably need to paint a picture of various warning signs without watching your loved one buy drugs or share needles. Some of these more subtle signs include:

Extreme sleepiness

Individuals who over-use opioids will often fall asleep in inappropriate situations, such as at the dinner table or while looking for a snack. This is called “nodding off,” and it can become more extreme when the user moves on to intravenous drugs like heroin.

Obsession with cash

Addicted individuals often pay for illicit drugs in cash, often going to great lengths to secure money. Look out for regular withdrawals from your loved one’s bank and stolen or disappearing cash.

Constipation

One of the major side effects of opiates (like oxycodone and heroin) is constipation. Look out for changed restroom behavior or the sudden appearance of laxatives.

Weird objects

Needles and pill bottles are obviously red flags, and your loved one will probably make efforts to hide these. For users of illicit street drugs, perhaps more readily noticeable objects include used cotton balls, cut-up straws/pens, tiny envelopes, bright orange syringe caps, and rubber tubing. Bottle caps or spoons that have burn marks or white residue are also an obvious sign, as are spoons or teaspoons going missing altogether.

If you suspect that you have found drug paraphernalia, check with your local drug store. Most major drug stores sell drug residue test kits.

Often, the only way to be completely certain that your loved one is using drugs is to drug test them. This may be an extraordinarily difficult conversation to have—but it also may be exactly what your loved one needs to escape far worse consequences.

Finally, if you know that your family member is addicted, you will need to have an honest conversation with them and explore treatment options. You can find more information about how to do this lovingly here .You can also find treatment resources at https://findtreatment.gov/.

This post is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address any individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. When in doubt, speak to your doctor.

If you think you may be experiencing overdose or have any other medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.

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