Opioid Addiction Signs & Symptoms

Understanding Opioid Addiction

Learn About Opioid Addiction

Opioids are a group of substances that include numerous types of prescription painkillers like morphine, codeine, OxyContin, fentanyl, Vicodin, and many others. In addition, heroin is also considered an opioid. Each of these substances work to depress an individual’s central nervous system in ways that decrease the individual’s ability to feel pain, all while producing feelings of relaxation and euphoria. Because of these effects, opioid prescription medications are often prescribed to those who require relief from moderate to severe chronic pain. However, while these drugs are highly effective for many, they are also tremendously addictive and can land individuals within the grips of addiction very quickly. In addition, the feelings of pleasure that are linked to opioid abuse can cause individuals to take these medications without the medical need for doing so. Again, the potency of these medications can be so addictive that individuals can easily get stuck in a cycle of abuse. Heroin, which is an illicit opioid, is just as addictive and can ruin an individual’s life once he or she begins abusing it.

When an individual starts using opioids to such a degree that it causes disruption within his or her life, it is likely that he or she has developed an opioid use disorder. Should this occur, a person will begin consuming larger doses of his or her substance of choice, or begin taking the substance for longer than planned. The damage that the continued abuse of opioids can cause on an individual’s life can be profound. However, there is hope and people who have developed an opioid use disorder can successfully recover from their addiction through an effective treatment program.


Opioid Addiction Statistics

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) reports that between 26 and 36 million individuals worldwide abuse opioids. Within the United States alone, NIDA states that over 2 million people battle with prescription and opioid-related substance use disorders. Additionally, according to the American Psychiatric Association (APA), the 12-month prevalence of opioid use disorder is said to be 0.37% of the adult population.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and Risk Factors for Opioid Addiction

When trying to understand the causes and risk factors that can make an individual vulnerable to developing an opioid use disorder, it is imperative to consider the following:

Genetic:  Research has found that certain genetic factors play a significant role in influencing an individual’s likelihood of developing an opioid use disorder. When there is a family history of opioid abuse and/or addiction, individuals are more vulnerable to developing the same form of addiction than those who do not have the same type of genetic background. Additionally, specific personality traits and temperamental factors can also add to the likelihood of abusing these types of substances.

Risk Factors:

  • Suffering from a medical condition that warrants receiving a prescription for opioid painkillers
  • Family history of opioid abuse and addiction
  • Having easy access to opioid substances
  • Family or personal history of other types of substance abuse and addiction
  • Being surrounded by individuals who abuse opioids or other substances
  • Possessing an impulsive temperament or a novelty-seeking personality

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and Symptoms of Opioid Addiction

The signs and symptoms that infer an individual abusing opioids can vary from person to person depending on a number of things, including the type of opioid that he or she is using. Some of the many symptoms that can be displayed by an individual battling an opioid use disorder can include:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Visiting multiple doctors in order to receive multiple painkiller prescriptions
  • Compulsive, prolonged use of opioids
  • Slurred speech
  • Engaging in drug-related crimes
  • Demonstrating a declined performance at work
  • No longer fulfilling obligations at home
  • Using opioids in situations that are dangerous, such as while driving
  • Withdrawing from family and friends
  • No longer participating in activities that were previously enjoyed

Physical symptoms:

  • Psychomotor retardation
  • Insomnia
  • Psychomotor agitation
  • Drowsiness
  • Pupillary constriction

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Suicidal ideation
  • Cravings for continued opioid use
  • Attention and concentration difficulties
  • Memory impairment
  • Impaired judgment

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • No longer being interested in things that were once enjoyed
  • Euphoria followed by apathy
  • Depression


Effects of Opioid Addiction

Opioid abuse can cause individuals to experience a variety of damaging effects, which can include the following:

  • Suffering from anoxia, or a deficiency in the amount of oxygen that reaches the body’s tissues
  • Dry mouth and nose
  • Heightened risk for suicide attempts and completed suicide
  • Slowed gastrointestinal activity/constipation
  • Impaired visual acuity
  • Track marks on the skin
  • Legal problems due to partaking in criminal behavior
  • Financial instability
  • Homelessness
  • Increased risk for contracting infections like HIV/AIDS or hepatitis C
  • Academic or occupational failure
  • Relationship disturbances

Co-Occurring Disorders

Opioid Addiction and Co-Occurring Disorders

Individuals who grapple with opioid addiction often struggle with symptoms of other mental illnesses, too. Some of the numerous co-occurring disorders that can exist alongside an opioid use disorder include:

  • Stimulant use disorder
  • Other substance use disorder
  • Alcohol use disorder
  • Persistent depressive disorder
  • Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Major depressive disorder

Withdrawal & Overdose

Know the effects of Opioid Withdrawal & Overdose

Effects of opioid withdrawal: When individuals abuse opioids and then attempt to end their use, they will go through withdrawal. Some of the signs of withdrawal include:

  • Dysphoric mood (constantly feeling uneasy)
  • Insomnia
  • Excessive yawning
  • Uncontrollable flowing of tears
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Pupil dilation
  • Fever
  • Diarrhea
  • Muscle aches
  • Sweating

Effects of opioid overdose: When opioids are consumed in an amount that the body is unable to metabolize, a person becomes at risk for overdose. When opioids are consumed chronically, they can cause users to become tolerant, meaning that their bodies require more of the substance in order to achieve the same effects. As individuals continue to increase the amount of opioids that they are consuming, they also increase their risk for overdosing. Signs that an individual has overdosed on opioids can include:

  • Seizures
  • Shallowed or labored breathing
  • Sudden sleepiness
  • Severe dizziness
  • Cold, clammy skin
  • Slurred speech
  • Headache
  • Extreme confusion
  • Headache