Jamie Lee Curtis made a surprising revelation this week: She hid an opioid addiction for a decade.
“I was ahead of the curve of the opiate epidemic,” the Halloween star told People of her addiction that started in the ‘80s. “I had a 10-year run, stealing, conniving. No one knew. No one.”
Curtis, 59, says she was first prescribed opiates in 1989 after having minor plastic surgery “for my hereditary puffy eyes.” That sparked an addiction that caused her to find painkillers however she could, including stealing pills from her friends and family. Curtis says her sister Kelly was the first one to learn about her addiction in 1998.
Curtis says she went to her first recovery meeting in February 1999, and told her husband about her addiction that day. “Getting sober remains my single greatest accomplishment…bigger than my husband, bigger than both of my children, and bigger than any work, success, failure. Anything,” she said. Curtis also says she has been sober for 20 years, and continues to attend meetings.
Opioid addiction is something many families have had to deal with, and it can have deadly consequences. Opioids were responsible for the majority of the 72,000 drug overdose deaths in the U.S. in 2017, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
Unfortunately, it's possible for someone with an addiction to hide it from their loved ones.
Curtis’ story isn’t uncommon, Brad Lander, Ph.D., a psychologist and clinical director of addiction medicine at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, tells SELF. “It’s pretty much universal with people who are addicted to opioids,” he says. “They don’t want other people to know—then it might interfere with their ability to get and use pills.”
There’s also an element of shame involved, psychiatrist Timothy Brennan, M.D., director of the Addiction Institute at Mount Sinai West and Mount Sinai St. Luke’s Hospitals and director of the Fellowship in Addiction Medicine Program at the Icahn School of Medicine, tells SELF. “Opioid addiction is so stigmatized that they don’t want to tell people around them what’s going on,” he says. “But the disease can progress much further when people are less willing to seek care.”
As for stealing opioids from friends and family, this is also pretty common in people with an addiction, Dr. Brennan says. “Opioids have been prescribed to millions of Americans, and they reside in medicine cabinets across the country,” he says. “It’s incredibly common for people addicted to opioids to steal medication from others.” It’s also easy for people to lose track of how many pills they have left in a bottle, Dr. Lander says, making it pretty simple for someone struggling with addiction to take a few from another person's medicine cabinet without them noticing.
It seems shocking that someone would be able to hide an opioid addiction from loved ones, especially for as long as 10 years, but people who are addicted to opioids and aren't using large amounts “don’t necessarily appear different than you or me,” Dr. Brennan says. “They’re not falling asleep in their cubicle or vomiting like someone would if they had too much alcohol.”
However, there are some signs that a loved one may be abusing opioids.
It’s often easier to notice these things in hindsight, Dr. Brennan says, but if you have your suspicions, be on the lookout for the following, per the Mayo Clinic:
- Someone is regularly taking an opioid in a way that’s not prescribed.
- They’re taking opioids "just in case," even when they’re not in pain.
- They have mood changes.
- They have changes in their sleep pattern.
- They borrow medication from other people or keep “losing” medications so that they need more prescriptions.
- They try to get the same prescription from different doctors to get a "backup" supply
- They make poor decisions.
“When someone has an addiction, they’re often so good at covering it up that they make everyone else think something is wrong with them,” Dr. Laner says. “They’ll make you think you didn’t see what you saw or that they’re fine, and you want to believe them.” The Mayo Clinic specifically says you may find yourself doing the following if your loved one is addicted to opioids:
- Having constant anxiety about their drug use, or worrying that they’ll die because of it.
- Lying or making excuses for their behavior.
- Pulling away from your loved one to avoid mood swings and confrontations.
- Thinking about calling the police on them.
If you suspect that your loved one is abusing opioids, it’s important to talk to them in a compassionate way, Dr. Brennan says. “Tell them you’re in their corner and will be with them in the long haul,” he says. “Acknowledge that it’s a disease they didn’t choose. That can empower people to seek care.”