How to Tell if a Friend is Misusing Opioids: Do Your Part to Combat the Opioid Epidemic

The numbers and facts surrounding the opioid epidemic in our country are staggering. Much of the data suggest that young people are more susceptible to opioid misuse than ever. More than two-thirds of people in drug treatment for opioids reported their first use of opioids by age 25. During 2016, youth ages 15₋19 were more than twice as likely to die from a drug overdose as they were 17 years earlier.

While most people who take prescription opioids do not become addicted or suffer an overdose, when opioids are used for something other than what the doctor prescribed or taken more frequently than prescribed, things can get dangerous quickly. Misusing prescription opioids opens a door to heroin and other street drugs. Nearly 80 percent of people addicted to heroin started with prescription opioids. It is important to be aware that misusing opioids can lead to other addiction problems.

How to tell if you or a friend may be misusing opioids: 

  • Taking an opioid that was prescribed for someone else, even if you’re taking it to reduce your own pain
  • Taking a higher dose of an opioid than you were prescribed, or taking your medication more often than prescribed
  • Taking an opioid—yours or someone else’s—to get high

Asking for help is an imperative first step, because the sooner you get help, the better the chances for recovery.

Signs a friend may have an opioid addiction problem:

  • People who develop an addiction often begin acting differently than they used to. They might change who they hang out with and consider friends, or they might start spending a lot of time alone. Sometimes they lose interest in things that they used to enjoy, or quickly change between good and bad moods
  • Drowsiness, small pupils, and slow breathing are physical signs that someone may be abusing an opioid

People with addictions often can’t stop taking drugs on their own, which is why encouraging friends to seek help is important. If they aren’t close with their parents, you can encourage them to confide in a teacher, coach, or other trusted adult. Your friend might not be ready to talk to someone about drug use, but you can be prepared to help when he or she is.

There is a free, confidential, 24/7 information service hotline for individuals, friends, and family members who are worried about a substance use disorder. Don’t hesitate to call (800) 662-HELP (4357) if you are concerned about opioid misuse.

Being a friend to someone struggling or an advocate for someone who needs it can save lives!