An estimated nine percent of Americans have abused opiates, such as heroin, Demerol and Percocet, during some point in their lifetimes, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine. Prescription pain medications in particular have seen a steady increase in abuse rates. As Schedule I and Schedule II narcotic drugs, opiates carry highly addictive properties that make opiate dependence a very real possibility in cases where misuse occurs.
As each person’s biochemistry is different, opiate dependence develops at different rates for different people. Dosage amounts, the frequency of use and the length of time a person has used all influence how quickly opiate dependence will develop.
While signs of opiate dependence do become increasingly apparent the more a person uses, signs may also take the form of withdrawal effects during times when no drugs are available. Opiate dependence symptoms may appear as physical signs, changes in cognitive function and changes in behavior.
Physical signs of opiate dependence result from the effects of the drug on the body’s central nervous system. Opiates depress or slow down central nervous system functions, which accounts for the physical signs that soon develop.
Some of the more noticeable signs to look out for include –
- Slowed breathing rates
- Excess sweating
- Pinpoint pupils
- Track marks from needle injections
- Higher pain thresholds
- Weight changes
- Overall lethargic-like demeanor
One of the more dangerous signs of opiate dependence appears as ongoing exhaustion and/or frequent episodes where a person loses consciousness or “nods out.” Someone dependent to opiates can easily “nod out” in the middle of a conversation or even at the dinner table. These episodes may occur on a random basis or happen frequently. Once a person reaches this point, the risk of overdose increases considerably as too large a dose can actually shut down the body’s respiratory functions.
Opiate effects on brain function happen almost immediately as the drug’s effects alter normal chemical processes. Signs of opiate dependence affect a person’s personality, his or her ability to think clearly as well as basic bodily functions.
Cognitive-related signs of opiate dependence may include –
- Confused thinking
- Mood swings
- Depression symptoms
- Poor hygiene and grooming
- Loss of interest in favorite activities
- Easily distracted
- Poor concentration
- Problems sleeping
In effect, ongoing opiate use causes brain functions to deteriorate for as long as a person keeps using. This deterioration process further increases the brain and body’s need and cravings for increasingly larger doses of the drug.
Behavior-type signs of opiate dependence may take any number of forms, but most signs generally deviate from a person’s normal behaviors and routines. Missing work and ducking out of family responsibilities will happen with greater frequency the longer a person uses. Spending less time with friends and family or isolating are also common signs.
Other behavior signs may center around the actual addiction itself. A person may have frequent doctor’s appointments and/or switch doctors on multiple occasions. As drug habits do cost money, a person may also resort to lying, stealing and even breaking the law in order to finance a drug habit.