• Affiliated With

    • Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center
    • MassGeneral Hospital for Children
    • Harvard Medical School Teaching Hospital

FAQ: Early Warning Signs of Opioid Addiction

How do I know if a loved one is addicted to opioids?

You might notice a change in behavior. A person addicted to opioids might appear sleepy, might change their usual sleeping or eating habits, or might gain or lose weight. They may also lose interest in activities they used to enjoy, or stop going to work or school. Their speech may be slurred and they may have memory loss.

Does CHA routinely screen for substance use disorders? What substances?

Yes. In all CHA primary care settings, we screen routinely for alcohol and substance use disorders. In patients prescribed opioids or other controlled substances, we perform additional assessments for misuse and overdose risk.

Before prescribing pain medication, do doctors screen or ask questions about history of addiction, or family history of addiction?

Yes, CHA providers (primary care, specialists, ED, etc.) ask about a history of substance use disorders or addiction, as well as other factors that may make you more vulnerable to addiction, before prescribing opioids. A history of addiction will not prevent you from receiving opioids should you need them, but you will be closely monitored to cut down the risk of addiction.

Who can I talk to at my doctor’s office about substance use concerns in my family?

You may talk to a doctor, physician assistant, nurse practitioner, nurse, social worker, or Mental Health Care Partner (at CHA adult primary care sites). All will be able to help you with concerns about substance use and help locate the best resource for you.

  • What questions should I ask my doctor?
    You should describe the reasons for your concern (for example increased sleepiness or weight loss) and ask if opioid use disorder could be a cause.
  • Will information I share about a loved one (i.e. in the ED) be confidential?
    Yes, it will remain confidential between yourself and the medical team taking care of your loved one, unless there is a situation like suspected child abuse where a health professional is legally required to make a report.

What can I do if I have concerns about medication my loved one/family member was given by a CHA provider?

You may call the CHA provider’s office to discuss your concern.

What should I do with prescription medications I no longer need to take?

The DEA has authorized collectors for unneeded drugs and the location of these collectors is available on their website. Most police stations accept unused medication. Click here for list of locations to bring unused prescription meds. Empty bottles may be disposed of in the trash once your name and personal information has been removed. As a last resort, mix wet coffee grounds with the unused meds and place them in a plastic bag in the garbage.

How can I keep prescription drugs safe?

Keep them in childproof containers in locations that are difficult to reach. If possible, keep any pills in a lockbox or electronic secure pill dispenser. Do not keep unused medication in your home. Dispose of all unused medications (as described above) once you have finished taking them.

What do I do if I am prescribed opioids? Will I become an addict?

Please discuss your concerns with your doctor before you are prescribed opioids so you can make the best decision together about how to address your pain. You should take the medications only as directed and attend all follow-up appointments.

Does CHA inform people about their risk of addiction?

Yes, CHA informs patients about the risk of addiction and how to minimize that risk whenever opioids are prescribed.

Are some people at higher risk of addiction?

Yes. For example, people with a history of a substance use disorder (e.g., cocaine, alcohol) are at high risk even if the original substance use disorder has resolved. People with family history of addiction are also at higher risk. Tobacco smokers are more likely to develop opioid addiction after receiving short-term opioids for pain.

Should I tell my doctor that I am in recovery?

Yes, because a history of addiction makes future addiction more likely. Having an honest relationship with your health-care provider means that you will get better treatment.

    Please Note

  • This web page provides general information for educational purposes only. The information provided here, or through linkages to other sites, is not a substitute for medical or professional care.

    You should not use the information in place of a visit, call, consultation or the advice of your physician or other healthcare provider.