“Most people who become addicted [to opioids] like me do so after a prescription for a painkiller following a medical procedure. Once the phenomenon of craving sets in, it is often too late,”
- Jamie Lee Curtis, Interview with ABC News
Who Is at Risk for OUD?
Opioid Use Disorder (OUD) affects people of all races, ethnicities, socioeconomic status, and ages. OUD is an epidemic that is impacting every part of our country. While the stereotype of OUD is a homeless person begging for money to buy their next fix, the reality is that someone suffering from OUD can be a teenager, a senior citizen, a homemaker, a successful businessman or your next door neighbor or colleague at the office.
It is estimated that as many as 1 in 4 individuals who began taking prescription opioids will develop an addiction to the medication. In other cases, social drug use can be the starting point for OUD. Regardless of the starting point for opioid usage there is an intense and rapid impact on the brain.
An article from the Mayo Clinic described how “Opioids trigger the release of endorphins, your brain's feel-good neurotransmitters. Endorphins muffle your perception of pain and boost feelings of pleasure, creating a temporary but powerful sense of well-being. When an opioid dose wears off, you may find yourself wanting those good feelings back, as soon as possible.” This effect on the brain is rapid and OUD can be developed in a short window of time.
Prescribing physicians are increasingly aware of the risk for OUD and prudent physicians are limiting the prescribing of opioids for either a short window of time or by substituting another medication that does not have the same risk for addiction. As the availability of opioids via a legal prescription is reduced, individuals suffering from OUD may turn to illegal channels for opioid drugs such as buying heroin on the street or purchasing illegal opioid pills.
Studies have shown that individuals with the following characteristics may have a higher risk for developing OUD:
Age range of 18 – 25
History of drug abuse or addiction of another type
Individuals with mental health issues
People who already have a history of criminal activity
Regular contact with high-risk people or high-risk environments (e.g., living with another person who is addicted)
Living in poverty
If you have a family member or friend who you are worried about being at risk, watch for the following warning signs.
Change in physical appearance such as poor bathing habits or change in dress and self-care
Weight loss or weight gain
Loss of appetite
Wearing long sleeves (to hide needle marks on arms)
Change in personality or acting strangely with family or friends
Poor performance at school or work
Moodiness and irritability
Unusual swings in behavior from appearing depressed or withdrawn and then suddenly being nervous or excited
Change in activities and / or friends.
Becoming isolated or hiding information about where they have been and what they have been doing
Stealing from family members or friends
You may also observe a set of physical symptoms which can include:
Insomnia or inability to sleep
Nausea or vomiting
Muscle spasms or unusual physical movements
These physical symptoms may be more pronounced if the individual is without the opioids for any period of time and their body begins to experience withdrawal symptoms.
What Can You Do
If you are concerned that your family member or friend is abusing opioids it is important to take action. Many people are reluctant to discuss the concern for fear of jeopardizing the relationship. However, the sooner you take action to help your friend or family member the sooner they can access help to recover.
Consider the following steps you can take:
Talk with your doctor to ask for suggestions and support in approaching your family member
Seek support to talk with your family member You may want to get help from a professional counselor or other family member to have the conversation
Find a support group Talking with others who have family members suffering from OUD can be helpful for you. Sharing your concerns and experiences with others who are also experiencing this challenge can make you feel less alone.
Identify Treatment Options Learn about options for Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT) in your area. MAT has shown the highest success rates for individuals struggling with OUD.
Take Care of Yourself While you may feel overwhelmed by everything happening around you, taking care of yourself is essential. Maintaining your own health and well-being is important so you can be there for your loved one.
Outlined below are suggested resource links to help you support your family member of friend on the path to recovery.