How Can You Tell if Your Loved One Is Using Opiates?

Husband suspects drug use in his wife.

We’ve come to see that drug addiction is a highly dangerous, and potentially lethal situation. Not only that, drug addiction is a lot more common than it used to be. In my research, I happened across a statistic I hadn’t seen in a while, and I was reminded of just how big the problem has grown.

Quoting the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration: “In 2017, approximately 19.7 million people aged 12 or older had a substance use disorder (SUD) related to their use of alcohol or illicit drugs in the past year, including 14.5 million people who had an alcohol use disorder and 7.5 million people who had an illicit drug use disorder.”

If 19.7 million people in the U.S. are addicted to drugs and alcohol, wouldn’t that mean a significant percentage of Americans know someone who is addicted to substances? And considering how dangerous addiction is, and how addicts tend to want to keep their habits a secret, wouldn’t it be best if the general population of America knew how to spot addiction? Having this knowledge might save a loved one’s life.

Looking at the Statistics

According to data published by the Pew Research Center, “nearly half of all Americans have a family member or close friend who’s been addicted to drugs.” That means tens of millions of Americans have seen addiction face-to-face at some point in their lives. However, a significant share of those individuals probably did not even know that their family member or friend had a drug habit since addicts are very good at hiding their drug-using activities.

“Nearly half of all Americans have a family member or close friend who’s been addicted to drugs.”

The Pew Research Center also reported on drug overdose deaths. According to their article, 52,404 people died from drug overdoses in 2015. That’s more than three times the 16,849 people who died from drug overdoses in 1999.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse also has a great deal of information on the drug problem, specifically as pertains to opiates. According to NIDA, 8,048 people died from opiate overdoses in 1999, 18,515 people died from such overdoses in 2007, and 47,600 people died from such causes in 2017. NIDA further breaks those numbers down into how many deaths each different type of opiate causes, which is worth looking at.

Thirty Signs of an Opiate Addiction

If almost half the population of the United States has been closely connected to people who use opiates, and if opiates are so deadly that they’ve claimed half a million lives since the turn of the century, wouldn’t it make sense for the general population to be able to spot and address addiction in their loved ones?

More often than not, the family members and loved ones of addicts play a considerable role in an addict getting into and through a qualified drug rehab program. But before someone can help their loved one get into treatment, they have to know what to look for. Just suspecting someone of a drug habit is not enough to demand they seek treatment. You need to know your loved one is using drugs.

Woman feels drowsiness

Here is a brief list of signs and symptoms that might be looked for. It is by no means a complete list, as everyone will display different phenomena when they use drugs. However, the following are the most common signs of opiate use:

  • Drooping eyes
  • Sudden itching
  • Skin flushing
  • Constricted pupils
  • Drowsiness
  • Slurred speech
  • Clumsiness and shiftlessness
  • Poor judgment
  • Slowed breathing, slowed heart rate
  • Neglecting friendships and family
  • Declining in performance at school or work
  • Not bathing, changing clothes, or brushing teeth
  • Wearing long-sleeved or long-legged garments, even during warm weather
  • Lying to family members or loved ones
  • Insomnia, paranoia, and general nervousness
  • Exhibiting a dulled, almost confused and “not all there” mental state

Again, this is not a complete list. But if you suspect something is up with a family member or loved one, check their behavior against the above items. If your loved one is manifesting one or more of the above points, you should explore further to see if they do indeed have a drug problem.

What to Do if You Find Out Your Loved One is Hooked on Opiates

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 702,000 people have died from drug overdoses since 1999. About 68 percent of those deaths have been from opiate drugs, which means about 477,000 people have died from opiates since 1999. If you suspect that your family member or loved one is addicted, you need to find out for sure and then get them help as soon as possible.

Drug addiction is a life or death matter. And opiate addiction has proved itself to be especially dangerous especially because more than half of all drug deaths in the last 18 years have been at the hands of just one type of drug, i.e., opiates. If you know someone who is struggling with a drug habit, make sure they get into residential drug rehab as soon as possible.


Reviewed by Claire Pinelli, ICAADC, CCS, LADC, RAS, MCAP



After working in addiction treatment for several years, Ren now travels the country, studying drug trends and writing about addiction in our society. Ren is focused on using his skill as an author and counselor to promote recovery and effective solutions to the drug crisis. Connect with Ren on LinkedIn.