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Opioid Abuse and Addiction: What are the Risk Factors?



Opioid abuse is remarkably common, and it doesn't show any signs of slowing down.

This has a lot of people asking: what are the risk factors and signs of opiate abuse?

When most people think of drug addiction, they may imagine obvious symptoms like track marks on the arm or property theft. They usually don't think of a loved one, parent, or friend with a stable job.

That's why learning to identify the risk factors and signs of opiate use is so important. It's also crucial to understand how mental health and substance abuse go together.

Understanding the Risk Factors of Opioid Abuse

A bottle of OxyContin

The face of opiate dependence isn't a teen or young adult in low income areas – it's the face of America.

As of 2015, over 20 million Americans 12 and older admitted to struggling with a substance use disorder at some point in their lives. Of that number, two million faced opioid abuse from prescription drugs. That's a big difference compared to the 591,000 claiming an addiction to heroin.

While heroin addiction is extremely devastating and dire, prescription opioid abuse often goes unchecked.


It begins under the supervision of a doctor. As a result, it's difficult to identify exactly when you transition from routine pain care into dependence and abuse.

Bakersfield Behavioral Healthcare System wants you to understand the risk factors so you can keep an eye on your family and friends.

  1. Struggling with substance misuse or abuse in the past
  2. Family environments that encourage misuse
  3. Being a woman (doctors are more likely to prescribe prescription drugs to women for chronic pain)
  4. Struggling with chronic pain from arthritis, injuries, surgeries, or other medical conditions
  5. Experiencing a trauma or PTSD
  6. Having a physical disability
  7. Facing undiagnosed and untreated mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, or an eating disorder
  8. A genetic predisposition to addiction or addictive behavior

If you believe a loved one is struggling with opioid abuse, it's important to provide support and reassurance.

Addiction is a disease. Do not place blame or make them feel guilty.

The Connection Between Mental Health and Addiction

Mental health and substance abuse are very much linked. It's not uncommon for people to self-medicate their depression or anxiety with prescription drugs or alcohol.

In fact, many anxiety medications come with a very high potential for abuse such as benzodiazepines like Xanax. In the case of opioid misuse, the sufferer may not realize they're self-medicating until dependence occurs.

It doesn't help that depression is extremely common in patients with chronic pain – creating a perfect recipe for opiate dependence.

Not only that, but addiction in itself is a mental health condition. Treatment and recovery require a comprehensive approach to address behaviors and thought patterns.

Signs of Opiate Use You Might Not Have Considered

Pills laying outside of a bottle

As mentioned above, addiction takes many shapes and forms – different people express different signs of opiate use. That's why it's crucial to be aware of all the lesser known signs and symptoms.

Since opiate dependence impacts many aspects of life, these signs are broken into sections.

Physical Signs

Chronic opiate use affects the body in many ways:

  • An elevated mood or euphoria
  • Drowsiness or nodding out
  • Pin-point pupils
  • Slow or reduced breathing
  • Frequent constipation 

Actions and Behavior

Keep an eye out for this behavior that could indicate a loved one has developed an opiate dependence:

  • Frequently seeing new or different doctors for the same condition
  • Irritability or moodiness
  • Losing interest in activities and isolating from social situations
  • Money trouble
  • Frequently missing work or school
  • Pill bottles in the trash
  • Disappearing for long periods of time without explanation

Withdrawal Symptoms

Opiate withdrawal is extremely painful and uncomfortable. Symptoms are similar across the board and often look a lot like the common flu.

  • Feeling nauseous and vomiting
  • Headaches
  • Cold sweats
  • Intense anxiety Insomnia
  • Lack of appetite
  • Diarrhea

If you think a friend or loved one is struggling with a substance abuse disorder, talk to them calmly about their behavior. Come from a place of understanding and care instead of guilt or blame.

Seeking Help for Opiate Dependence

A woman with smeared makeup wearing a hood

At Bakersfield Behavioral Healthcare Hospital, we understand that opiate dependence requires a comprehensive approach. This means treating both the physical addiction as well as the psychological conditions.

Mental health and addiction are directly linked so any treatment plan should adequately target behavior and thoughts while building healthy coping skills.

Each person is unique, and each addiction is different. People who have used opiates for several decades will require a different level of care than casual short-term users.

Most treatment plans will include a variety of the following treatment options

  • Detoxification and cleansing to break the physical chemical dependence
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy to understand thoughts and actions
  • Group support therapy
  • One-on-one psychological counseling
  • Proper treatment for underlying physical or mental health conditions
  • Thorough aftercare including outpatient therapy, support groups, and coping skills

Mental Health and Substance Abuse Treatment at Bakersfield Behavioral Healthcare Hospital

A couple sitting and holding hands

Bakersfield Behavioral Healthcare Hospital understands that substance abuse is a physiological disorder that often occurs with mental health conditions. That’s why we offer comprehensive and attentive recovery programs for chemical dependency.

Our programs are designed to alleviate opiate dependence and provide personalized care in a supportive environment. Treatment options may include detoxification and cleansing, cognitive behavioral group therapy, meditation, education, family therapy, and after-care coordination.

Opiate dependence is a group effort. If you or a loved one are struggling with a substance use disorder, contact Bakersfield Behavioral Healthcare Hospital today to learn more about our services and treatment plans. You can also call at 1-877-755-4907.