In short, yes, flu-like symptoms can be a sign of drug abuse. (It’s also important not to jump to conclusions, especially in this time of COVID-19 and the plethora of flu-type viruses that routinely make rounds among people of all ages.) Even so, if a person frequently suffers from flu-like symptoms and you notice other signs and symptoms related to possible drug abuse, the drug in question could be any one of a number, including heroin and cocaine.
When people “come down” after abusing a drug or begin to experience withdrawal symptoms because they can’t obtain the drug, they may exhibit flu-like symptoms. Of course, these symptoms are not caused by the flu virus. The symptoms are the body’s response to drug abuse.
Symptoms of Drug Abuse
There are many signs that may mean a person is abusing drugs or is addicted to drugs. Flu-like symptoms are a common sign, but they might not appear in all cases of drug addiction. Flu-like symptoms are most common with heroin abuse. However, people who come down from a cocaine high might also experience a runny nose, fatigue, and other flu-like symptoms. Someone who is experiencing alcohol withdrawal symptoms might experience chills, aches, and nausea.
Someone who is abusing heroin may begin to experience withdrawal symptoms that are flu-like in nature a mere few hours after their last use. These symptoms might involve nausea, vomiting, chills, muscle aches, and fatigue. There probably will be other symptoms, too, to watch out for. Common signs of drug abuse/addiction include:
- Neglected appearance
- Changes in behavior (i.e. becoming more secretive, mood swings)
- Failure to meet responsibilities at work, school, or home
- Relationship problems
- Financial or legal problems
- Engaging in high-risk behaviors
- Becoming more socially isolated
- Presence of drug paraphernalia
- Difficulty focusing
Drug Abuse and Flu-Like Symptoms
There are many flu-like symptoms that a person abusing drugs might exhibit. These symptoms include:
- Muscle aches
- Nausea / vomiting
- Red eyes
- Runny nose
- Reduce appetite
Sometimes these symptoms occur as the body comes down from a high. Sometimes the way that a drug is used can trigger certain flu-like symptoms. For instance, a person who inhales a drug may develop a cough. Someone who snorts a drug may be more vulnerable to experiencing a runny nose. Flu-like symptoms are extremely common during withdrawal, especially withdrawal from heroin and other opioids.
When the body is dependent on an opioid like heroin or a prescription opioid painkiller like fentanyl, it needs the drug to function without withdrawal symptoms that mimic the flu. These symptoms might begin mild, but can rapidly progress to become quite severe. In fact, severe withdrawal symptoms can trigger health emergencies such as dehydration, seizures, and irregular heartbeat.
A person can begin to experience withdrawal symptoms within hours of their last drug use depending on the nature of their addiction and the drug in question. Usually, withdrawal symptoms peak within 24-72 hours of the individual’s last use. The withdrawal timeframe is similar to the timeframe for a typical bout of the flu— about a week.
While anyone can succumb to the flu, it’s not usual for someone to have the flu frequently. If you notice that someone seems to have flu-like symptoms often, you might begin to suspect that something else is going on. Heroin isn’t the only drug that causes flu-like symptoms, but it is the most common. If you notice other signs and symptoms (i.e. track marks, agitation, mood swings), you might suspect that the problem is drug-related and not caused by a flu virus.
It’s Not Always Drugs
Of course, it’s also important for family and friends not to jump to conclusions simply because a loved one is experiencing flu-like symptoms. Mood swings and weight loss might be due to stress. Other conditions like a cold and COVID-19 can produce symptoms that seem like the flu. People could be suffering from a medical condition that they don’t want to disclose. For instance, a person undergoing chemotherapy may experience flu-like symptoms. Someone getting used to a new medication needed to treat an illness might experience flu-like symptoms as well.
It’s important to remember that mental health issues or problems at home can trigger a physical stress reaction in people. Many people experience stomach cramps, vomiting, diarrhea, headache, fatigue, loss of motivation, or weight loss as a result of stress. This stress could be related to their job, family or relationship problems, or financial difficulties. In short, drugs may not be part of the problem at all.
Addressing Your Suspicions
If you’ve reached a point where you strongly suspect that your loved one or close friend is abusing drugs, you may choose to address it. You may live with this person and have witnessed many signs and symptoms that indicate drug abuse. When confronting someone about drug abuse, try to be prepared for their anger and denial. The individual may deny using drugs even in the face of what you believe to be irrefutable evidence. They may become so angry that you’re forced to end the conversation or meeting.
Confrontations about drug use are not easy or pleasant, generally speaking. However, that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t take place. Denial and anger are common, but these may be replaced in time with acknowledgement of the problem.
As a loved one or friend of someone abusing drugs, it’s most helpful to show support. Remember that support doesn’t mean that you condone their drug use or will support the continuation of their drug use. It means that you support them with love and empathy and acknowledge that what they are suffering from is a medical condition. It also means that you support the need for them to seek treatment for their condition.
Showing support isn’t easy. As a spouse or loved one, it can feel like betrayal when someone hides their drug use. Many loved ones seek counseling such as family therapy or support groups to get help coping with someone who has a drug addiction. This is a helpful idea, especially in situations where the loved one refuses to seek help for their drug abuse problem. In such situations, it never hurts to seek out expert advice from addiction specialists who understand the issues at play.
In the meantime, you can let your loved one know that you are there for them as a listening ear. You can continue to encourage them to seek help at a drug rehab center. You can also educate yourself about drug addiction and the particular drug that your loved one is using.
Drug addiction is a serious and chronic health condition. The more you know, the more you will be able to help your loved one. Even during and after treatment, your loved one is likely to need support of some type during the long recovery process.
If you are in need of advice or your loved one is ready to face their drug problem and seek treatment, FHE Health can help. With quality treatment, many people have achieved their recovery goals. For more information, contact us today.