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What are signs of opioid addiction?

Opioid addiction has become an epidemic in the U.S. and is a serious public health issue. Opioids include a class of drugs that help you cope with pain by changing how your brain responds to pain. Prescription pain killers such as oxycodone, hydrocodone, codeine and morphine are effective forms of pain relief and can be safe when used correctly, but they are among the most abused drugs in the country.

When these drugs are misused, it can lead to addiction. Addiction is a chronic disease that makes you feel like your body or mind cannot function without the drug. It causes you to find ways to continue using the drug or to find a substitute for the drug you were using.  Many people who become addicted to prescription pain medication eventually turn to heroin because it is cheaper and readily available.

Symptoms of opioid abuse may be behavioral, psychological or physical. If you are concerned that someone you know is abusing pain meds, here are some of the signs to look for:

  • Increased anxiety or nervousness
  • Heightened energy or alertness
  • Irritability, anger or physical agitation
  • Lack of coordination or slower reaction times
  • Slurred speech
  • Decreased appetite
  • Drowsiness or lack of energy
  • Changes in sleep habits
  • Shallow or slowed breathing
  • Nausea, vomiting or constipation
  • Inability to concentrate or lack of motivation
  • Poor decision making or confusion
  • Loss of interest in activities or abandoning responsibilities
  • Social isolation or changes in relationships
  • Increased secrecy
  • Mood swings
  • Euphoria
  • Depression

If you think someone you know is addicted to prescription painkillers or illegal drugs such as heroin, the best thing you can do is to try to get the person help. This is not always easy, but if possible, at least start the conversation or encourage the person to talk to a health care professional. You can call the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA’s) National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357) for free, confidential information 24-hours-a-day, 365-days-a-year. The Helpline provides referrals to local treatment facilities, support groups and community-based organizations. You can also request publications and other information about addiction.

According to the 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 6.4 million Americans abused controlled prescription drugs. The study shows that a majority of abused prescription drugs were obtained from family and friends, often from the home medicine cabinet.

National Prescription Drug Take Back Day is April 28, 2018, providing an opportunity for Americans to prevent drug addiction and overdose deaths. Visit to find a collection site near you.

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Date Last Reviewed: February 5, 2018
Editorial Review: Andrea Cohen, Editorial Director, Baldwin Publishing, Inc. Contact Editor
Medical Review: Perry Pitkow, MD
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