Some of the initial signs and symptoms of painkiller abuse can be as simple as not taking medicines as they’re prescribed. Of course, if someone is taking medications they’re not prescribed, this is already a sign of abuse, even if they’re taking minimal amounts. Generally, when someone starts to abuse prescription pain medications, they’ll take a higher dose than what’s prescribed, particularly as they start to build a tolerance. They also may look for alternate ways to take the drug, such as crushing it up or pairing it with alcohol, which would heighten the effects. Physical and other behavioral signs may also be present, many of which are similar to what you would see when someone is abusing any other kind of drug.
Changes in physical appearance that could indicate the abuse of painkillers include pupils that are dilated or constricted, changes in weight, and bloodshot or glazed eyes. With painkillers, people who are abusing them will most often seem very drowsy, or they could nod off without realizing it.
- Poor concentration
- Memory problems
- Slower breathing rate
- Slower reactions and movements
- Mood swings
There are also a variety of lifestyle changes that may occur and indicate painkiller abuse. These can include:
- People who are abusing painkillers may have less money, or they may try to do things like stealing or illegal activities to get more money to pay for the drugs.
- There is a sense of preoccupation that almost always occurs when someone is using prescription painkillers or any other drug that they’re abusing. They’re more concerned with maintaining their addiction than other areas of their life, so their social interactions and work can start to suffer.
- Drug users may acquire a new group of friends who are also using drugs.
- In general school and work are usually neglected if a person is abusing drugs.
- Individuals who are taking painkillers may exhibit angry outbursts or a general change in attitude. They may also appear anxious or as if they’re keeping secrets or not being forthcoming. There can be an overall sense of irritability as well.
- It’s not uncommon for people who are abusing prescription painkillers to become very aggressive toward individuals who try to talk to them about the drugs, or who they perceive as trying to control their actions.
- The user’s grooming habits can start to decline, and they can lose interest in their physical appearance.
- Users will often ask to borrow money from family members, or they may turn to stealing to support their habit.
- If someone the user knows has a prescription for painkillers, they may go missing.
- Sleep patterns often change and can include sleeping during the day and staying up at night.
People who are abusing painkillers may also start to make excuses. They can make excuses as to why they’re using painkillers, as well as why their behavior is changing. There can also be excuses as to why they’re unable to stop using the drugs, or they can start trying to convince the people around them they’ll stop using them, but they aren’t able to.
- Liver and/or kidney disease or failure
- Lowered immunity
- Gastrointestinal problems
- Cardiovascular issues
- Impaired mental function
- Collapse of the respiratory system
- Death resulting from toxicity or overdose
Opiates can have severe effects on the digestive system, and when people are long-term abusers, they may rely on laxatives for bowel movements. They may also have damage to the anus because of this.
There is also something called narcotic bowel disorder, which is the result of the impact the drugs have on the bowel system. The slowdown can lead to nausea, vomiting, bloating and distention of the abdomen.
Regarding the liver, this is the organ responsible for processing and breaking down drugs, so long-term narcotic use can put an intense amount of strain on it. The liver may then start storing toxins, which can be particularly true with drugs that contain acetaminophen as well as opioids.
A condition called rhabdomyolysis may occur, in which muscle tissue breaks down very quickly, leading to complete immobilization for hours. Muscles can begin to disintegrate, which can then result in damage to other organs. Many people who use prescription painkillers for long periods of time may also need kidney dialysis or transplants.
When someone experiences problems with their kidneys, it can lead to kidney failure which can then contribute to a heart attack or other damage to their heart.
With long-term use, other side effects may also include hormonal dysfunction including reduced fertility and libido, immunosuppression, testosterone depletion, and abnormal pain sensitivity.