Opioid Addiction Symptoms, Signs & Effects

Ohio Hospital for Psychiatry offers effective, comprehensive treatment for individuals struggling with opioid addiction. Learn more about the signs and symptoms of opioid addiction.

What is Opioid Addiction

Learn More About Opioid Addiction

Opiates or opioids, are a group of narcotics that are a derivative of opium and produce a sedative effect when taken. These substances work by depressing the central nervous system and are commonly used to reduce pain or to aid in helping people fall asleep. While some opiates are prescribed by doctors to help treat legitimate pain-related ailments, their effects can lead some people to become addicted. Opiates create a sense of euphoria and well-being, which can be extremely appealing to many individuals. The more often an individual uses opiates, the higher his or her tolerance becomes, causing him or her to need to take higher doses in order to feel the high that was initially obtained. While addiction to opiates is a serious matter, with the right treatment and support individuals can overcome their addiction and go on to lead successful lives.


Statistics of Opioid Addiction

The most commonly abused opiate in the United States in heroin. However, painkillers are rapidly becoming just as prevalent and are equally as dangerous. It is estimated that 5 million people in the United States are addicted to prescription opiates, and the National Institute on Drug Abuse estimates that 52 million people have experimented with abusing opiates for recreational purposes at least once. While opioid abuse can begin at any age, studies have shown that the average age for experimentation is getting younger and younger. 1 in 12 high school seniors report nonmedical use of prescription pain pills like Vicodin, while 1 in 20 report abusing OxyContin. In the United States, 18% of people who enter treatment for addictions are abusing opiates.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and Risk Factors for Opioid Addiction

The causes and risk factors of opioid abuse will vary from person to person, but it is believed that a combination of factors can work together to lead to the development of an addiction. The following are some examples of factors that can play a role in the onset of opioid addiction:

Genetic: It has been established that children who have parents with addiction problems are going to be more susceptible to addiction than those who do not. This is why opiate addiction is more common in some families than others.

Physical: Theories have been made that state that opioids help a person’s ego by managing the painful effects of feelings such anxiety, anger, and guilt, among others. Dopamine and serotonin receptors are two aspects of the brain that are affected when an individual begins using opioids and as the chemicals become imbalanced, the higher the likelihood becomes that that person will develop an addiction.

Environmental: The ease in which people can obtain opiates makes experimentation easy, leading to a greater risk of addiction. Similarly, the fact that the use of prescription opiates is socially accepted makes the use of the drug seem less dangerous. Studies have also shown that a high rate of drug use tends to be more prominent in areas with higher crime rates, a high degree of unemployment, and poor parental interaction.

Risk Factors:

  • Preexisting mental health issues
  • Personality factors
  • Chronic pain
  • Poor familial dynamics
  • Easy access to opiates
  • Exposure to crime and/or violence

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and Symptoms of Opioid Addiction

The signs and symptoms that may indicate the abuse of opiates will vary from person to person and will depend upon a number of different factors. The following are some examples of symptoms that may present themselves in people abusing opiates:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Slurred speech
  • Increased irritability toward others
  • Violence
  • Abuse
  • Angry outbursts
  • Theft
  • DUIs
  • Borrowing or stealing money

Physical symptoms:

  • Constriction of pupils
  • Sleepiness or insomnia
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea
  • Lowered blood pressure
  • Lowered heart rate

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Variable concentration
  • Drowsiness
  • Memory impairment
  • Intermittent periods of dozing

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Fluctuations in a person’s mood
  • Agitation
  • Anger
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Irritability


Effects of Opioid Addiction

If left untreated, the long term-effects of opiate abuse and addiction can be severe. Long-term complications of opiate abuse and addiction will impact virtually all aspects of a person’s life and may include:

  • Legal problems
  • Marital issues
  • Family problems
  • Significant changes in social behavior
  • Loss of friendships
  • Arrests
  • Social isolation
  • Loss of interest in things that one used to be interested in
  • Work or school problems (absences, poor performance)
  • Medical problems

Co-Occurring Disorders

Co-Occurring Disorders of Opioid Addiction

Those struggling with an addiction to opiates will most often have a co-occurring mental health disorder that will need to be simultaneously treated. Some examples of such illnesses can may include:

  • Depressive disorders
  • ADHD
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Addiction to other substances
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Conduct disorder (in adolescents)
  • PTSD

Effects of Withdrawal and Overdose

Effects of Withdrawal and Overdose of Opioid Addiction

The effects of opiate withdrawal are usually uncomfortable, but are not normally life-threatening. Once an individual stops using opiates, the symptoms that he or she suffers from can last for anywhere between a week to a month. Various withdrawal symptoms that a person may experience after having stopped abusing opiates can include:

  • Low energy
  • Hot and cold sweats
  • Stomach cramping
  • Anxiety
  • Insomnia
  • Nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea
  • Runny nose and teary eyes
  • Irritability
  • Mood swings
  • Variable concentration
  • Central nervous system arousal (including restlessness, sleeplessness, and tremors)

While withdrawal from opiates is not typically life-threatening, an opiate overdose can be fatal if immediate action is not taken. It has been estimated that approximately 17,000 people die as a result of opioid overdose in the U.S. every year. The effects of an overdose can include:

  • Blacking out
  • Slowed pulse rate
  • Shallow, slow respirations
  • Pinpoint pupils and blood shot eyes
  • Depressed or slowed respiratory rate
  • Blue skin, lips, or finger nails
  • Decreased pulse rate
  • Loss of alertness
  • Drowsiness
  • Seizures
  • Coma

When my anxiety and depression led me to stealing opioids to cope from family and friends, I knew I needed treatment. That's when I got help for my addiction at OHP. Only OHP was able to help me break free from the vicious cycle of addiction and give me coping mechanisms for depression & anxiety.

– Alex S.
Marks of Quality Care
Why does this matter?
  • Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS)
  • The Jason Foundation
  • The Joint Commission (JCAHO) Gold Seal of Approval