Opioid Addiction Signs, Symptoms & Effects

Understanding the signs, symptoms, and possible effects of opioid addiction can be an important first step on the path toward successful long-term recovery. Sierra by the Sea in Newport Beach, California, is proud to be a source of accurate and relevant information about the impact of opioid addiction.

Understanding Opioid Addiction

Learn about opioid addiction

Opioids are a category of potentially dangerous and highly addictive substances. Examples of opioids include morphine, heroin, oxycodone (the main ingredient in OxyContin), hydrocodone (the main ingredient in Vicodin), and fentanyl.

Many opioids have legitimate medical uses, primarily related to pain management. However, all opioid use can put a person at risk for addiction and overdose.

The clinical term for opioid addiction is opioid use disorder. Opioid addiction is also sometimes referred to as opioid dependence. In addition to a powerful compulsion to use opioids, opioid addiction is also characterized by tolerance and withdrawal.

Tolerance means that a person who has become addicted to an opioid will need to use the drug with increasing frequency or in larger amounts in order to experience the desired effects. Withdrawal means that when a person tries to stop using opioids, they will develop painful physical and psychological symptoms.

It can be extremely difficult to overcome the urge to use opioids. However, when you receive effective personalized care from a reputable provider, you can achieve successful long-term recovery.


Statistics about opioid use and addiction

The following statistics about opioid use and addiction in the United States were reported by the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM), the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA):

Causes & Risk Factors for Opioid Addiction

Potential causes of opioid addiction

The likelihood that you or someone you care about may develop opioid use disorder can be influenced by a variety of internal and external factors, including the following:

  • History of addiction or mental illness within the family
  • Previous struggles with another substance use disorder
  • Personal history of mental health concerns
  • Personal history of conduct disorder as a child or adolescent
  • Inherited characteristics such as impulsivity or novelty-seeking
  • Receiving a prescription for opioids to treat pain due to an injury or other medical condition

It is important to understand that no single risk factor or set of circumstances will definitively cause a person to become addicted to opioids. However, individuals who have one or more of the factors listed above may have a heightened risk for opioid addiction.

Signs & Symptoms of Opioid Addiction

Symptoms of opioid addiction

As with the causes and risk factors for opioid addiction, the symptoms of opioid addiction can also vary from person to person. In general terms, though, the following are among the more common signs and symptoms that may indicate that a person has become addicted to opioids:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Attempting to borrow, purchase, or steal opioids that were prescribed to someone else
  • Visiting several doctors in an attempt to acquire multiple prescriptions for opioids
  • Using opioids in situations where it is clearly unsafe to do so, such as when drinking alcohol or prior to driving a car
  • Continuing to use opioids even after experiencing negative effects that are directly related to previous use
  • Neglecting personal hygiene and grooming
  • Frequently missing school or work, and otherwise failing to meet personal and professional obligations
  • Lying, being secretive, or being otherwise deceptive regarding your opioid use
  • Withdrawing from friends and family

Physical symptoms:

  • Weight loss
  • Persistent fatigue
  • Shifting energy levels
  • Disrupted sleep patterns
  • Constipation
  • Dry mouth
  • Watery eyes and runny nose
  • Itchiness

Mental symptoms:

  • Inability to concentrate or focus
  • Diminished cognition
  • Mood swings
  • Poor judgment
  • Loss of interest in significant activities

Effects of Opioid Addiction

The negative impact of opioid addiction

It is difficult to overstate the potential negative impact of untreated opioid addiction. When a person becomes addicted to opioids, they put themselves at risk for considerable physical, psychological, and socioeconomic harm. The following are examples of the possible negative effects of opioid addiction:

  • Strained or ruined relationships with family members and friends
  • Unsatisfactory performance in school and at work
  • Academic setbacks, including failure and expulsion
  • Job loss and chronic unemployment
  • Legal problems, including arrest and incarceration
  • Financial difficulties
  • Physical harm due to dangerous or reckless behaviors
  • Damage to heart, liver, kidneys, and other organs
  • Onset or worsening of symptoms of co-occurring mental health disorders
  • Social withdrawal or ostracization
  • Loss of self-esteem and diminished self-worth
  • Pervasive sense of hopelessness
  • Suicidal thoughts or behaviors

It is important to understand that the effects of opioid addiction can be prevented by seeking effective care at a reputable facility. When you get the right type and level of professional help, you minimize your risk for future harm. The process of getting help for opioid addiction also involves beginning to heal from past damage.

Co-Occurring Disorders

Common co-occurring disorders among people who are addicted to opioids

Many people who become addicted to opioids also struggle with co-occurring mental health challenges. The following are among the more common co-occurring disorders that may impact people who struggle with opioid addiction:

  • Depressive disorders
  • Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Antisocial personality disorder
  • Other substance use disorders

Experiencing opioid addiction does not mean that you will definitely develop a co-occurring mental health challenge. However, your risk may be increased. When you get effective, comprehensive help, the professionals who care for you can identify and, if necessary, address any co-occurring disorders that accompany opioid addiction.

Effects of Opioid Withdrawal & Overdose

Withdrawing from opioids, and the risk of overdose

Effects of withdrawal: When you become addicted to opioids, your body adapts to their presence. When you try to stop using opioids, your body may react with a variety of unpleasant physical and psychological responses. This is known as withdrawal. The following are common effects of opioid withdrawal:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Muscle and bone pain
  • Abdominal cramping
  • Excessive perspiration
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Agitation
  • Powerful cravings for opioids

Effects of overdose: When your opioid use overwhelms your body’s ability to process the drug, this experience is known as overdose. Opioid overdose is extremely dangerous. Without effective medical attention, a person who overdoses on one or more opioids can die. The following are common signs of opioid overdose:

  • Extreme confusion or disorientation
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Bluish coloration near lips and fingertips
  • Slow or shallow breathing
  • Faint pulse
  • Muscle spasms
  • Seizure

It is extremely important to understand the danger of opioid overdose. Every year, thousands of people die as a result of opioid overdose. Anyone who exhibits any of the signs above after using an opioid may have overdosed and should be brought to the immediate attention of a qualified healthcare provider.

Recovering from substance use disorders is a challenging journey that feels more doable in an environment that tends to each individual’s complex needs and strengths. Our goal is to foster a treatment experience that is built on compassion, hope, and caring, and fueled by excellence in the provision of evidence-based and trauma-informed care.

– - Anonymous