Opioid Abuse Symptoms: 6 Signs You May Have a Problem

Opioids are a class of drugs that include prescription pain medications like codeine, oxycodone, and hydrocodone. These drugs can help you manage moderate to severe pain, but they’re also highly addictive.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), 2 million Americans had an opioid use disorder in 2018. If you take opioids, you may wonder if you’re one of them. According to addiction experts, here are 6 signs that you may have an opioid problem.

1. You’re not taking opioids as prescribed

Taking these drugs in larger amounts or for longer periods than your doctor intended may be a sign of trouble. If you don’t take opioids as prescribed, you may find yourself “running out of a prescription early, or taking other opioids from other sources to make up the difference,” states Dr. Aaron Weiner, a board-certified psychologist and Director of Addiction Services at Linden Oaks Behavioral Health.

2. You’re developing a tolerance

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Developing a tolerance is another sign you may have an opioid problem. This means “you need more than you did before to get the same effects,” says Dr. Richard Rosenthal, Director of Addiction Psychiatry at Stony Brook Medicine. Tolerance is a concern because when you take higher doses, you may have more side effects from your medication, or more serious side effects.

3. You have withdrawal symptoms

Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when you don't take opioids is another warning sign, Rosenthal says. Some of the common signs of opioid withdrawal include sweating, body aches, vomiting, diarrhea and fever. These symptoms can happen within 12 hours of your last dose.

4. You can’t control your opioid use

One of the main signs of an opioid problem is that you “can’t seem to control how much you use,” Rosenthal says. This may mean not being able to stop yourself from using more than your doctor prescribed. You may want to stop taking the drugs, but “have tried to cut down unsuccessfully or experience a strong desire or craving” to keep using them, he says.

5. You’re neglecting your responsibilities

"If you’ve fallen behind on your responsibilities due to your opioid use, you may have a problem," Rosenthal says. This may mean you “have reduced your previous work, social or recreational activities,” he notes. For example, you may be skipping work or not spending as much time with your children.

6. Your opioid use is causing problems in your life

“Continuing to use opioids despite their causing significant negative life consequences,” is a sign that you may have an opioid problem, Weiner says. These consequences could include problems at work or with your friends and family. They may also include physical or emotional challenges.

"If you think you have an opioid problem, contact your therapist or primary care provider," Weiner says. “They can direct you toward trusted resources for treatment.”

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