Opioid Addiction Symptoms & Warning Signs

Understanding Opioid Addiction

Learn about opioid addiction & abuse

Opioids are a group of substances that includes heroin and prescription painkillers like OxyContin, Vicodin, fentanyl, morphine, codeine, and more. Each of these substances work to depress the central nervous system so that an individual can feel a reduction in his or her pain, all while feeling a sense of overall wellbeing and relaxation. Since these properties exist, opioid prescription medications are often prescribed to help individuals who battle moderate to severe physical pain. However, while opioids are very helpful for medical purposes, they also hold incredibly addictive properties that can cause individuals to fall into patterns of substance abuse very quickly. In addition, the euphoric feelings that are connected with opioid abuse can cause some individuals to begin taking them outside of the guidelines in which they were prescribed, or for recreational use. Heroin, which is an illicit form of opioid, is just as addictive as prescription painkillers and can cause severe destruction throughout an individual’s life once he or she starts abusing this substance.

When individuals start abusing opioids in a way that brings about disturbances in their functionality and significant distress results, they have likely developed opioid use disorder. When this occurs, individuals can easily find that they are taking greater amounts of the substance in question than they originally began with, or they are taking it for a longer period of time that planned. The destruction that opioid abuse can cause in their lives can be dramatically upsetting, and those who have developed opioid use disorder might find that they are not able to stop their use on their own.


Statistics on opioid addiction & abuse

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) states that between 26 and 36 million people worldwide abuse opioids. Within the United States alone, NIDA reports that more than two million people battle opioid use disorders. According to the American Psychiatric Association (APA), the 12-month prevalence of opioid use disorders, on the whole, is estimated to be 0.37% of the adult population.

Causes & Risks

Causes and risk factors for opioid addiction & abuse

When researching the causes and risk factors that can cause individuals to become vulnerable to developing opioid use disorder, consider the following:

Genetic: Genetic factors play a major role in an individual’s likelihood of battling an opioid use disorder in the future, according to the APA. When there is a family history of opioid abuse and addiction, individuals are more likely to struggle with the same type of problem than those who do not have the same hereditary makeup. Additionally, specific personality traits and temperamental factors can add to an individual’s vulnerability of abusing opioids.

Risk Factors:

  • Suffering from a medical condition that warrants receiving a prescription for opioid pain medications
  • 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
  • Possessing an impulsive temperament or a novelty-seeking personality
  • Being surrounded by individuals who abuse opioids or other substances

Signs & Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of opioid addiction & abuse

The signs and symptoms that an individual might exhibit if he or she is abusing opioids will vary from individual to individual and will depend on a number of factors, including the type of opioid that is being abused. Some of the many symptoms that an individual might display if grappling with opioid use disorder can include:

Behavioral Symptoms:

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

Physical symptoms:

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

Cognitive symptoms:

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

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Euphoria followed by apathy
  • No longer finding interest in things that were once enjoyed
  • Depression


Effects of opioid addiction & abuse

Without proper treatment, ongoing opioid abuse can cause individuals to experience a number of consequences, such as the following:

  • Relationship disturbances/marital strife/family discord
  • Increased risk for contracting viruses like HIV/AIDS or hepatitis C
  • Occupational difficulties
  • Track marks or sclerosed veins in those who inject the drug
  • Homelessness
  • Impaired visual acuity
  • Financial instability
  • Legal problems due to engaging in criminal activity
  • Slowing of gastrointestinal activity/constipation
  • Heightened risk for suicide attempts and completed suicides
  • Suffering from anoxia, or a deficiency of oxygen to the body’s tissues
  • Dry mouth and nose

Withdrawal & Overdose

Effects of opioid withdrawal and overdose

Effects of opioid withdrawal: When individuals have continued to abuse opioids and then attempt to stop or lessen their use, withdrawal symptoms can develop, which can be painful. Some of the many signs of opioid withdrawal include:

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

Effects of opioid overdose: When opioids are taken to an extent that the user’s body is unable to metabolize them, he or she is then at risk for overdose. Opioids that are chronically abused often cause individuals to develop tolerance, meaning that they must keep taking more of the drug to obtain the same high. As individuals keep increasing the amount of opioids they are consuming, the more likely overdose becomes. Some warning signs that an individual is experiencing an overdose include:

  • Significantly slurred speech
  • Extreme confusion
  • Seizures
  • Shallow or labored breathing
  • Sudden sleepiness
  • Cold, clammy skin
  • Severe dizziness
  • Headache