Symptoms & Signs of Opioids Abuse

Understanding Opioid Abuse

Learn About Opioid Addiction

Opioids are a class of medications that are used to alleviate the presence of pain. The opioid category includes prescription pain medications such as Vicodin, codeine, OxyContin, and morphine, as well as the illicit drug heroin. These drugs work by attaching to a person’s opioid receptors and reducing pain sensations in the body. In addition to producing an analgesic effect, opioids also produce feelings of euphoria, wellbeing, and an overall sense of calm. These effects may prompt an individual to begin abusing these substances.

Long-term abuse of opioids can have severe detrimental health consequences, including irreversible brain damage. Furthermore, those who are addicted to opioids are at an increased risk for premature death, which is why it is essential to seek professional help as soon as possible. There are a number of treatment options for opioid abuse available that can help an individual get clean and stay clean.

Co-Occurring Disorders

Opioid Abuse and Co-Occurring Disorders

The presence of an opioid addictions is often accompanied by the presence of an additional mental health condition. Examples of disorders that have been cited as co-occurring alongside the opioid abuse include the following:

  • Additional substance use disorders
  • Depressive disorders
  • Antisocial personality disorder
  • Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Borderline personality disorder


Opioid Addiction Statistics

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) states that approximately 52 million people in the United States have experimented with using prescription painkillers for recreational purposes at some point in their lives. Furthermore, an estimated five million people in the U.S. meet criteria for a clinical diagnosis of opioid addiction. Tragically, it is estimated that, approximately 17,000 people die as a direct result of an opioid overdose in the United States each year.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and Risk Factors for Opioid Abuse

Multiple factors are believed to play a role in the development of an opioid addiction. Some of these factors include the following:

Genetic: Significant evidence has shown a strong hereditary link to the onset of addiction to substances such as opioids. Individuals who have biological family members who struggle with substance abuse and addiction are at heightened risk for struggling with chemical dependency concerns at some point in their lives.

Environmental: A number of environmental circumstances can heighten an individual’s vulnerability to experimenting with the abuse of substances, such as opioids, and consequently developing an addiction. For example, when people are exposed to the frequent use of drugs and/or alcohol, they will most likely view such behaviors as acceptable and may begin participating in them as well.

Risk Factors:

  • Being prescribed opioid medication for surgery, injury, or chronic pain
  • Personal or family history of mental illness
  • Family history of substance abuse and addiction
  • Personal history of abusing other types of drugs and/or alcohol
  • Ease of access to opioids
  • Peer pressure
  • Being exposed to crime and violence

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and Symptoms of Opioid Abuse

Recognizing the signs and symptoms of opioid abuse can be difficult because drug users will often go to great lengths to hide their addiction and many of the obvious signs are not immediately apparent. However, over time a number of signs and symptoms will emerge that may indicate that an opioid problem may exist. Some of the symptoms and signs of opioid use may include:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Visiting different doctors to obtain multiple prescriptions for opioid
  • Stealing or constantly borrowing money from others
  • Taking someone else’s medication
  • Forging prescriptions
  • Frequently being absent from work
  • Loss of employment
  • Isolating oneself from friends and family
  • Failing to fulfill daily obligations
  • No longer participating in activities that were once enjoyed
  • Engaging in sudden, unprovoked angry outbursts
  • Possessing drug paraphernalia

Physical symptoms:

  • Frequent nausea
  • Decreased blood pressure
  • Slowed heart rate
  • Disturbances in sleeping patterns
  • Change in eating patterns
  • Constipation and diarrhea
  • Constricted pupils
  • No longer caring how one looks and lacking appropriate hygiene
  • Weight gain or loss
  • Track or needle marks
  • Drowsiness
  • Dizziness

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Significant memory disturbances
  • Altered states of perception
  • Irreversible cognitive impairment
  • Concentration difficulties
  • Hindered learning capabilities

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Mood swings
  • Depression
  • Irritability
  • Anxiety
  • Agitation
  • Anger
  • Suicidal ideation


Effects of Opioid Addiction

The long-term abuse of opioids can manifest into a number of negative consequences in virtually all areas of a person’s life. Some of these adverse complications may include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • No longer meeting responsibilities at work or home
  • Job loss
  • Chronic unemployment
  • Financial difficulties
  • Isolation from family and friends
  • Significant relationship disturbances
  • Familial difficulties, possibly ending in divorce
  • Legal problems
  • Development of many physical complications
  • Decline in one’s overall mental health
  • Death from overdose, accidents, or medical conditions

Withdrawal and Overdose

Effects of Opioid Withdrawal and Overdose

Effects of opioid withdrawal: Symptoms that occur when opioid use is discontinued or reduced is known as opioid withdrawal. The symptoms associated with opioid withdrawal may be extremely unpleasant, but in most instances are not life threatening. Opioid withdrawal symptoms may include:

  • Runny nose
  • Watery eyes
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Low energy
  • Irritability
  • Insomnia
  • Sweating
  • Muscle aches and pains
  • Abdominal cramping
  • Diarrhea
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Paranoia
  • Panic attacks

Effects of opioid overdose: When an individual consumes a quantity of opioids that is more than his or her body can physically tolerate, an overdose will occur. Because an opioid overdose can be a life threatening situation, medical attention should be sought immediately. Signs that could indicate that someone has overdosed on opioids may include the following:

  • Pinpoint pupils
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Depressed or slowed respiratory rate
  • Decreased pulse rate
  • Low blood pressure
  • Drowsiness
  • Decreased state of alertness
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Seizures
  • Coma

After undergoing surgery, I was prescribed opioids to help with the pain. Once I realized that getting my next hit was more important than the aspects of my life, I sought out help. Only Starlite Recovery was able to break through my cycle of addiction. I am now starting fifth year of sobriety thanks to the excellent staff at Starlite!

– William G.