Recognizing the signs is one of the best ways you can prevent drug misuse. Be sure you know what to look for and how to help.
Substance use disorder does not discriminate. It affects people of all ages, races, and socioeconomic backgrounds. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that it cannot happen to you or your loved ones.
In 2020, an estimated 40.3 million Americans age 12 and up had a substance use disorder, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health. Some substances, including painkillers, tranquilizers, stimulants, and sedatives have a higher chance of causing physical dependence and addiction, where the person may seek the drug out despite harmful consequences.
One of the keys to prevention is recognizing the signs of potential substance use disorder. If you can catch the signs before it begins, you may be able to prevent some of its negative effects. Signs of substance use disorder include:
- Disinterest in activities
- Taking more medication than prescribed
- Mood swings
- Changes in sleep patterns
- Repeatedly “losing” prescriptions
- Noticing your prescriptions go missing
- Seeing multiple doctors (“doctor shopping”)
- Sudden, unexplained drop in grades
Stimulant misuse can have additional side effects such as reduced appetite, an agitated or excitable appearance, and trouble sleeping.
Identifying Opioid Misuse
Opioids are a category of drugs that include strong prescription pain relivers, like oxycodone or hydrocodone, as well as illegal substances such as heroin and fentanyl. These substances are highly addictive and are the most frequently misused drug when taken outside of their intended purpose.
Repeated use of opioids rapidly leads to tolerance — which causes the person to need to use more and more to get the same effect — and withdrawal — where the person needs the drug to feel “normal” and not physically sick.
The dangers of harmful opioid use are great, including overdose and death. From April 2020 to April 2021, in the throes of the pandemic, provisional data reports over 100,000 people died from a drug overdose in the United States, and more than 75% of those deaths involved opioids, according to CDC. The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the fatal misuse of opioids, where the US saw an 18% increase in deaths by overdose in 2020.
In 2017, President Trump declared the opioid crisis a public health emergency, reinforcing the fact that addiction is a medical issue that impacts the entire nation. The current Biden administration furthered these efforts of awareness and prevention by increasing access to opioid overdose rescue prescriptions.
Recognizing signs and equipping yourself to take action can save lives, as 40% of overdoses occur when someone else is present.
Signs of Opioid Misuse or Dependence:
- Poor coordination and confusion
- Extreme drowsiness (“nodding out”)
Administering Rescue Drugs
Naloxone is a life-saving medication that can counteract the effects of an overdose from opioids, including heroin, fentanyl, and prescription opioids. Naloxone is easy to administer via nasal spray or injection, and can be purchased with or without a prescription depending on your location. Naloxone will not harm someone if they are overdosing on drugs other than opioids or if they are not overdosing at all.
If you or someone you know is suffering from opioid use disorder:
- Talk to your doctor about co-prescribing naloxone along with the prescription opioid.
- Ask your pharmacist if a prescription is required to purchase naloxone.
- Learn how to administer naloxone in case of an emergency.
- Store the medication safely at home away from children, but easily accessible in case of a crisis.
Other Ways to Prevent Misuse and Overdose
Preventing harmful prescription use in part involves physicians making judicious and informed decisions when prescribing opioids or other drugs that may cause dependence. Other things to keep in mind:
- Make sure you keep all medication in the home secured and dispose of old prescriptions properly.
- Your prescribers and pharmacists have access to Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs to help them identify patients who are visiting multiple pharmacies for medications and to prevent drug diversion. This tool may help healthcare professionals recognize signs of substance use disorder more quickly and can potentially aid in the conversation about getting treatment.
How to Get Help
- Find a doctor that is board certified in Addiction Medicine by searching this tool.
- Locate a treatment center and other resources on the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) website.
- Review resources from the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids that help parents understand substance use disorder and treatment.
- Attend a free support meeting through the SMART Recovery network.
- Contact groups, such as Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, Al-Anon, and Nar-Anon, that provide support for alcoholics, addicts, and their families.
In Case of Emergency
Call 911 or Poison Control at 800/222-1222.