Opiate Addiction Signs & Symptoms

Opioid addiction can be hard to spot. Learn about the warning signs & symptoms to watch for.

Understanding Opioid Addiction

Learn about opioid addiction

A group of narcotic opioid substances derived from opium poppy plants, opiates are a class of substances that work by acting as a depressant on the nervous system. There are types of opiates that come in prescription form, including Vicodin, codeine, morphine, OxyContin, and Percocet, which, when taken, provide relief from intense and/or chronic pain. Some opiates are also prescribed by physicians or psychiatrists in order to assist in lessening emotional distress and helping individuals fall asleep. Despite being prescribed for legitimate purposes, however, these substances are known to be addictive in nature as they can elicit feelings of euphoria and intense relaxation. Heroin is another type of opiate substance that is highly addictive and can lead to monumental disturbances in a person’s life.

An addiction to any type of opioid substance can rapidly wreak havoc on the lives of those who use it. However, there are many treatment options available that can help individuals overcome their devastating habit of abusing opiates.


Opioid addiction statistics

While heroin is said to be the most commonly abused opiate in the United States, prescription medications like those previously mentioned are quickly becoming just as prevalent and are just as dangerous. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, an astounding 52 million people have reportedly experimented with the abuse of opiates, and an estimated five million individuals meet criteria for a clinical diagnosis of an addiction to this perilous substance. Sadly, each year approximately 17,000 people die from opioid overdoses in the United States alone.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and risk factors for opioid addiction

The development of an addiction to opiates can be due to a number of factors. Such factors are described briefly in the following:

Genetic: Studies have shown that there is a strong hereditary link to the development of substance abuse and addiction, including the abuse of and addiction to opiates. When individuals have family members who struggle with substance, they are more vulnerable to developing addiction to substances, like opiates, than are individuals who do not share similar the same type of family history.

Environmental: A person’s environment can have a significant impact on his or her susceptibility to beginning to experiment with, and subsequently begin abusing, substances like opioids. For example, spending time in an environment where drugs are frequently used will make individuals more likely to use drugs themselves. Additionally, being exposed to chronic stress or emotional turmoil can lead some individuals to search out a means of numbing themselves from the distress they feel, and that numbness can be found in the use of substances like opiates.

Risk Factors:

  • Suffering from a chronic pain condition
  • Family history of substance abuse and addiction
  • Presence of a pre-existing mental health condition
  • Family history of mental illness
  • Possessing ease in obtaining opiates
  • Peer pressure
  • Poor interpersonal relationships
  • Spending time in an environment where drug use occurs frequently
  • Exposure to crime or violence
  • Being subjected to abuse or neglect
  • Lack of parental involvement

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of opioid addiction

The specific type of opioid substance that an individual is abusing will have a significant impact on the types of symptoms that he or she displays. Additionally, the amount of the substance that a person uses, the length of time during which he or she has been using, and the frequency of his or her use will also affect the types and severity of symptoms present. Examples of possible behavioral, physical, cognitive, and psychosocial symptoms that could be indicative of the fact that someone is struggling with an opiate abuse problem can include:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Stealing money or consistently asking to borrow money from others
  • Sudden, unprovoked angry outbursts
  • Persistent procrastination
  • School refusal
  • Frequent absences from work
  • Failing to adhere to daily responsibilities
  • No longer engaging in activities that were once enjoyed
  • Isolating oneself from family and friends
  • Slurred speech

Physical symptoms:

  • Slowed heart rate
  • Drop in blood pressure
  • Frequent nausea
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Changes in eating patterns
  • Constricted pupils
  • Constipation or diarrhea

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Greatly impaired ability to concentrate
  • Disturbances in memory
  • Excessive drowsiness / intermittent periods of dozing
  • Altered states of perception
  • Cognitive impairment
  • Hindered learning capabilities
  • Dizziness / loss of balance

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Irritability
  • Agitation
  • Unwarranted anger
  • Emotional dysregulation
  • Suicidal ideation


Effects of opioid addiction

The prolonged abuse of opiates can render an individual susceptible to experiencing a great deal of negative consequences in many, if not all, areas of his or her life. Examples of such negative effects can include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Alienation from friends, family members, and other loved ones
  • Academic failure
  • Occupational failure / chronic unemployment
  • Financial distress
  • Discord within relationships
  • Familial strife
  • Legal problems
  • Overall decline in one’s physical health
  • Overall decline in one’s mental health

Co-Occurring Disorders

Opioid addiction and co-occurring disorders

Like other addictions, the presence of such can often coincide with the presence of an additional mental health condition. Examples of various disorders that have been cited as co-occurring alongside substance use disorders, including opioid addiction, include:

  • Anxiety disorders
  • Depressive disorders
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Schizophrenia
  • Conduct disorder
  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder
  • Oppositional defiant disorder
  • Borderline personality disorder
  • Antisocial personality disorder

Withdrawal & Overdose

Effects of opioid withdrawal and overdose

Effects of opiate withdrawal: When someone has been abusing opiates on a consistent basis and then suddenly ceases his or her use, there is an extremely high likelihood that he or she will experience a period of withdrawal. The symptoms of withdrawal are known to be extremely uncomfortable and can include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Flu-like symptoms
  • Stomach cramping
  • Increased irritability
  • Increased anxiety
  • Paranoia
  • Panic attacks
  • Nausea / vomiting / diarrhea
  • Bone pain
  • Insomnia
  • Drastic mood swings
  • Concentration disturbances
  • Overwhelming cravings for the substance
  • Central nervous system arousal (restlessness, tremors, etc.)

Effects of opiate overdose: Although withdrawing from opiates is typically not a life-threatening occurrence, overdosing on opiates is. Because of this, it is imperative that immediate medical attention is sought in the event that someone overdoses on this substance in order to prevent untimely death. Symptoms that can indicate that someone has overdosed on opiates may include:

  • Seizure
  • Drastically slowed pulse rate
  • Labored breathing
  • Delayed response to stimuli
  • Loss of color in lips, finger nails, and overall skin pallor
  • Blacking out / losing consciousness
  • Decreased state of alertness
  • Lapsing into a coma

I was very addicted to opioid and went to Harbor Oaks for treatment and they helped me recover. I am now celebrating 2 years of sobriety.

– Former Patient
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