Opioid Addiction: Signs, Symptoms, & When To Get Help

Are you unsure whether you or your loved one is struggling with opioid addiction? Read below to learn how to spot the warning signs.

Understanding Opioid Addiction

Learn about opioid addiction

Opioids are a category of substances that include illegal drugs such as heroin and prescription pain medications such as OxyContin, Vicodin, fentanyl, morphine, and others. Opioids, which are central nervous system depressants, work to reduce an individual’s ability to experience pain while also bringing on feelings of relaxation and euphoria. Due to the pleasant effects that opioids produce, many individuals find themselves trapped within a pattern of problematic abuse of these substances. While prescription opioids can offer immense relief for individuals who possess a legitimate medical purpose for them, they can also cause a number of problems if they are consumed in a manner that is not consistent with their prescribed guidelines. Furthermore, many individuals use opioids recreationally to obtain a high. As individuals continue to abuse opioids, it becomes more likely that they will start to experience problems functioning within their lives. The longer that the abuse of opioids continues, the more likely these individuals will become to develop an addiction to these dangerous substances. As soon as that type of addiction has developed, it can be very hard to overcome without help from professional intervention.


Opioid addiction statistics

The American Psychiatric Association (APA) reports that opioid use disorder affects 0.3% of the adult population. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) states that between 26 and 36 million people worldwide abuse opioids. In the United States, over two million people grapple with the abuse of opioid based prescription medications.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and risk factors for opioid addiction

The causes and risk factors that have been linked to the onset of opioid use disorder can be found in the following:

Genetic: According to the APA, genetic factors play a major role in increasing the likelihood that someone will start abusing and become addicted to opioids. When a family history of substance abuse exists, whether it is a past filled with opioid abuse or the abuse of another substance, individuals are more likely to partake in similar behavior than those who do not share the same type of family history.

Risk Factors:

  • Being in the company of other individuals who abuse opioids or other types of substances
  • Personal history of abusing other types of substances
  • Having a novelty-seeking personality
  • Possessing an impulsive temperament
  • Family history of substance abuse and addiction

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of opioid addiction

The signs and symptoms that might indicate that an individual is abusing opioids will vary from individual to individual, however can include the following:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Withdrawing from family and friends
  • No longer engaging in activities that were once seen as enjoyable
  • Engaging in drug-related crimes
  • Continuing to abuse opioids despite having the desire to stop
  • Using opioids in situations that are physically hazardous, such as while driving
  • Slurred speech
  • No longer adhering to responsibilities in favor of using opioids
  • Declined occupational performance

Physical symptoms:

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

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Cravings
  • Memory impairment
  • Suicidal ideation
  • Concentration and attention difficulties
  • Impaired judgment

Psychosocial symptoms:

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


Effects of opioid addiction

If an individual continues on in a pattern of opioid abuse, he or she is likely to suffer from any number of negative effects. Some examples of these effects can include, however are not limited to, the following:

  • Cognitive impairment
  • Disturbances of reproductive functioning in women
  • Loss of child custody
  • Demise of marriages or partnerships
  • Homelessness
  • Destroyed friendships
  • Occupational failure
  • Financial strife
  • Legal problems due to engaging in criminal behavior, including incarceration
  • Heart attack
  • Onset of new, or worsening of current, mental illness symptoms
  • Erectile dysfunction in men
  • Seizures
  • Stroke


Signs, symptoms, and effects of opioid withdrawal

When an individual suddenly stops his or her use of opioids, he or she is likely to experience a period of withdrawal as his or her body works to adjust to its previous way of functioning. This withdrawal process can be very uncomfortable and might include some of the following symptoms:

  • Excessive sweating
  • Dysphoric mood (feeling in a constant state of unease)
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Insomnia
  • Fever
  • Muscle aching
  • Yawning
  • Pupil dilation


Signs, symptoms, and effects of opioid overdose

When an individual ingests more of an opioid substance than his or her body can metabolize or process, he or she is at risk for experiencing an overdose. Overdosing on any substance can be very dangerous, and an opioid overdose is no exception. Therefore, it is imperative that emergency medication attention is obtained if an individual shows any of the following symptoms:

  • Labored or shallow breathing
  • Severe dizziness
  • Seizures
  • Extreme confusion
  • Slurred speech
  • Cold, clammy skin

Co-Occurring Disorders

Opioid addiction and co-occurring disorders

It is common for those who are trapped within the throes of an opioid addiction to also be struggling with symptoms of other mental health conditions simultaneously. Examples of various disorders that have been known to occur alongside of opioid use disorder include:

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