How to Tell if Your Loved One is Demonstrating Signs of Opiate Abuse

There are many different signs of opiate abuse. These indicators include physical, behavioral, financial, and spiritual tells. The physical dependence on prescription drugs has led to an increase in substance abuse disorders. Furthermore, it’s contributed to increased heroin use and opiate overdoses.

Some risk factors for opioid dependence are mental illness, family history of drug abuse, and difficult family and social environments.


What is the difference between opiates and opioids?

There is one main difference between opioids and opiates. That is that opioids are synthetic chemical compounds created in a lab. In contrast, opiates are chemical compounds deriving from natural plant matter. Both drugs are narcotics and present the same symptoms.

The pharmaceutical companies have created over 500 opioid molecules! But these opioids are most common in the American medical system.

  • Fentanyl/Fentanil (Ultiva, Sublimaze, Duragesic Patch)
  • Hydrocodone (Vicodin)
  • Hydromorphone
  • Oxycodone (Oxycontin, Percocet)
  • Oxymorphone (Opana)
  • Meperidine (Demerol)
  • Methadone (Dolophine)
  • Dilaudid

These are prescription drugs. However, many are easily attainable on the streets. It’s a terrifying reality for people with opioid use disorders. As well as for their families. Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid, and it’s making headlines for being responsible for mass-overdose events.

Heroin is a semi-synthetic opioid made from chemically-processed morphine. It’s the darkest demon. And often the final stop for a person with Opioid Use Disorder.

What are three examples of opiates?

  • Codeine
  • Opium
  • Morphine

What is the addiction rate of opiates?

Over two-million Americans abuse opioid painkillers. While another million abuse opioids including fentanyl and heroin.

Between 21 to 29 percent of patients prescribed opioids for chronic pain end up misusing them. Also, 8 to 12 percent of people using opioids develop an opioid use disorder. Additionally, 4 to 6 percent who misuse prescription drugs transition to heroin.

What percent of deaths are caused by opioids?

Over 70% of the 70,630 deaths in 2019 involved an opioid. Overdose (OD) deaths rank right below diabetes for the highest death count. The national OD rate is 21.6 deaths per 100,000 residents. Killing more than 136 Americans daily. With heroin OD death rates increasing at an average annual rate of 55.7%!

What is the most common side effect of opioids used for 5 days?

Common side effects of five-day opioid use are nausea and constipation. Constipation can get so bad it requires a stool softener. Or even lead to opioid discontinuation.


Physical Signs of Opioid Abuse

Sometimes it can be difficult to identify signs during the earlier stages of opioid misuse and addiction. But pinned pupils are a definitive giveaway with people using opiates.

Additionally, flushed and itchy skin can be a sign of opioid abuse. Is your loved one constantly scratching? Opiates can cause a person to claw at their skin until it scratches and bleeds. So fingernail scratches on the face, arms, and legs may indicate abuse.

It’s not uncommon for raised patches of red skin to present on the face. Also, weight loss and poor changes in hygiene are significant signs of opioid abuse.

Decreased sex drive is a common side effect. As well as frequent flu-like symptoms and changes in sleep patterns. Having difficulty staying awake or nodding is a telltale.

Eyes rolling back with the head or head hanging forward are nodding signs.

Another physical tell is needle marks from intravenous drug use. These tracks are commonly found on arms and legs. But people may hide needle marks by injecting veins on their breasts and feet. Check their feet if your loved one always wears socks and you suspect they have an opiate addiction.

Behavioral Signs of Opiate Abuse

Behavioral signs can include excessive mood swings. Switching from happy to hostile without warning. As well as impulsive actions and risky activities. Does your loved one complain about losing medication? Or do they borrow medicine?

Do they seek multiple prescriptions from different doctors? Suggesting that they need to stock up just in case? These are all behaviors of a person with opioid use disorder.

Furthermore, quitting activities and isolating from friends are conducive to opioid addiction. Changes in eating habits and exercise routines can be signs.

Additionally, lying becomes your loved one’s language. Suddenly, stories aren’t adding up and they become defensive when pressed for detail.

If you witness a person taking prescription pills as a precaution despite not being in pain, that’s a red flag for abuse.

Taking larger amounts than they’re prescribed. Or taking medication not prescribed to them is abuse. Also, mixing medications with other substances intensifies the effects of the drug.

Are they talking about their pain medication frequently while detailing its use? If it’s legitimate usage there is no reason to explain why they are taking their medicine. Shame and guilt can convince an opiate abuser to try to justify a behavior others haven’t noticed.

Abandoning responsibilities including school, sports, dance, or other hobbies may indicate a problem. Is your loved one neglecting to take care of the children? Or maintain household responsibilities?

Are they becoming secretive with who they’re talking to and where they’re going? Or spending unusual lengths of time in isolated areas of the home, such as the bathroom or garage? These are all possible behavioral signs of opiate addiction.


Financial Signs of Opioid Abuse

Is your family member paying for opiates off of the streets? Or are they taking prescription pain pills that aren’t prescribed to them? That is abuse.

Initial financial signs of opiate abuse include giving away shifts at work. As well as consistently asking to borrow money. More obvious financial tells include losing their job and pawning personal possessions.

Or worse, if they begin stealing to support their habit. Whether it’s stealing from the till at work. From a retailer, or from you, theft is one of the more desperate signs of opiate abuse. It presents a dire state of the severity of their addiction.

Once an opiate abuser has reached this stage, they’re in full-fledged addiction. They’re sick enough that they’ve abandoned all responsibilities to get high. Decision-making is poor and often dangerous.

Spiritual Signs of Opiate Abuse

Does your loved one have a relationship with a higher power? Then this section is for you. One of the most challenging things to witness is your loved one’s loss of faith. Or spirituality.

Other spiritual signs may include that they stop attending church or church groups. Additionally, you may notice your loved one no longer engages in prayer. Be it saying grace before a meal. Or prayer journaling before bed. Were these once-common practices and no longer are? You may have a reason for concern.

Another spiritual sign of abusing opioids is a loss of moral compass. Is your loved one participating in activities that go against their convictions? Such as lying, stealing, or becoming violent? Unfortunately, it’s a common theme with opioid use disorders.

Additional Signs of Opioid Addiction

These are a few common signs indicative of opiate addiction:

  • Running out of tin foil in your home abnormally quick.
  • Finding crumpled tin foil with black marks.
  • Discovering cut straws or pens that have been hollowed out for smoking.
  • Slurred speech.
  • Poor motor skills and coordination.
  • Change in friends, hobbies, activities, and/or sports.
  • Burnt or missing spoons and bottle caps.
  • Syringes.
  • Small bags with black, sticky residue or powder-like substance.
  • Missing shoelaces, elastic headbands, and/or belts.

Opiate Withdrawal Symptoms

One or more of these withdrawal symptoms will be present when detoxing from opiates.

  • Intense flu-like symptoms such as diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting.
  • Goosebumps with sweating.
  • Shaky hands.
  • Irregular changes in sleep patterns.
  • Runny nose and watery eyes.
  • Constantly yawning.
  • Muscle cramping and joint pain.
  • Increased pain.
  • Anxiety and restlessness.

Thank you for reading about these warning signs of opioid abuse and addiction. Are there any important signs that I am missing? Please add them to the comments below. So I can update the post to include them! Also, will you hit that social share and try to save a life today? Thanks! It means the world.

Are you in opiate recovery AND are searching for a safe space? Please join our Facebook group, Stronger In Recovery. We acknowledge medicational recovery as opioid/opiate sobriety.

Projecting Love, Light, and Peace.

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Elizabeth Ervin

Elizabeth Ervin is studying to become a Certified Drug and Alcohol Counselor. She overcame heroin addiction and is passionate about helping others with recovery. She writes regularly about addiction, recovery, and mental health at

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  1. It’s so important to know these signs. I know someone who has battle opioids for years, and if we’d known sooner, we could have been in a better position to help.

  2. I have been on opiods a couple of times for pain meds after surgery and I never liked how that made me feel. I can’t imagine being on them all the time. But, on the other hand, so many do so knowing the signs is definitely important.

    1. My sister is the same way. She cannot stand how they make her feel and will try to get by with ibuprofen. It’s interesting how things affect people differently. Thank you for reading about these signs of opiate abuse!

  3. Did not know this was even a thing, so good to be educated about this and to know what signs to look out for. It sounds awful and extremely stressful x

  4. I have heard of opiate abuse and it is really very hard to deal with. The topic you have shared should reach to many people as possible. People should know and be aware of this.

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