Symptoms, Signs & Effects of Opiate Addiction

Understanding the signs and symptoms of opiate addiction can help you or a loved one make a decision about treatment. Every experience with opiate addiction is different, and if you or a loved one are struggling, we are here to help.

Understanding Opiate Addiction

Learn about opiate addiction and substance abuse

Derived from the poppy plant or manufactured synthetically by pharmaceutical companies, opioids are drugs that are known for their pain-relieving properties. There is a large variety of opiate drugs ranging from legal drugs such as codeine and morphine to illegal drugs like heroin and opium. While these drugs can be beneficial for those who are experiencing pain, when not used as prescribed by a physician they can put an individual at an increased risk for developing an addiction as well as a whole host of other negative consequences.

Opiates are especially addictive and harmful because they block an individual’s pain receptors and over time begin to alter brain chemistry. When used, opiates produce feelings of euphoria and tranquility allowing an individual to temporarily feel as if they can escape from the world around them. Not only is opiates addiction dangerous, but if left untreated it can be deadly. If you are struggling with an addiction to opiates, through support from family and friends as well as participation in a long-term treatment program you can overcome your addiction and live a sober life.


Opiate addiction statistics

Research has shown that nearly 20,000 people die each year from opioid overdose and that, of the total overdose-related deaths in the United States, 60% have been as a result of pharmaceutical drug consumption. The number of deaths related to heroin remain staggering as the total number reported has doubled since the early 2000s.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and risk factors for opiate addiction

While opiate addiction does not discriminate, there are a number of considerations to keep in mind when trying to understand the causes of the addiction.

Genetic: Experts suggest that some individuals have a genetic predisposition to developing an opiate addiction. Those who have family members with a history of drug abuse or addiction are at an increased risk of developing an addiction themselves once they have started using a drug.

Psychological: Repeated drug use alters the way in which the brain feels pleasure and causes physical changes to some nerve cells in the brain affecting how the neurotransmitters communicate. Physical and chemical imbalances in the brain can then lead to the development of an addiction as a means to make things balanced again. Additionally, research suggests that people with low self-esteem are susceptible to opiate abuse as the elevated mood while under the influence of opioids may allow the individual to feel as though he or she functions better in social situations.

Environmental: Certain environmental factors, such as stressful interpersonal relationships, lower socioeconomic status, lack of housing, family beliefs and attitudes, and exposure to peer groups that promote drug use can all put an individual at an increased risk for developing an addiction.

Risk Factors:

  • Family history of substance abuse
  • Being male
  • Lack of family involvement
  • Personal history of trauma
  • Low socioeconomic status
  • Preexisting mental health disorder
  • The ability to obtain multiple prescriptions from potentially more than one doctor
  • Easy access to other people’s prescription drugs
  • Undiagnosed mental health disorder

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of opiate addiction

There are a large number of signs and symptoms that may indicate the presence of an opiate addiction. The specific symptoms present will vary depending upon the level of abuse, length an individual has been using, and a number of other personal factors. Some signs or symptoms that may be present in an individual who abuses or is addicted to opiates include:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Socially withdrawn or isolated
  • Lying
  • Stealing
  • Borrowing money
  • Slurred or incoherent speech
  • Doctor shopping
  • Forging prescriptions
  • Lack of coordination

Physical symptoms:

  • Weight loss
  • Headaches
  • Diarrhea
  • Dry mouth
  • Constipation
  • Vomiting
  • Track marks
  • Injection sites

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Disorientation
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Poor impulse control
  • Lack of good decision-making
  • Inability to communicate

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Mood swings
  • Disconnected from reality


Effects of opiate addiction

Should an opiate addiction progress and not be properly treated, there are a variety of effects that can adversely impact a user.In addition to the short and long-term health effects, an opiate addiction can influence numerous areas of a person’s life. Some of the effects of opiate addiction may include:

  • Family discord
  • Lack of interpersonal relationships
  • Loss of employment or expulsion from school
  • Legal problems
  • Incarceration
  • Multiple hospitalizations or commitment to mental health program
  • Infections of the heart
  • Collapsed veins
  • Increased heart rate
  • Contraction of infectious diseases (HIV/AIDS, Hepatitis B and C)
  • Rise in blood pressure
  • Arthritis
  • Decreased lung functioning and complications
  • Multiple organ damage or failure
  • Bacterial infections
  • Suicidal ideation and attempts
  • Death

Co-Occurring Disorders

Opiate addiction and co-occurring disorders

For those who are struggling with opiate abuse, it is common to have another mental illness. Some of the most common co-occurring disorders can include:

  • Another substance abuse disorder
  • Schizophrenia
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Depressive disorders
  • Personality disorders
  • Eating disorders

Withdrawal & Overdose

Effects of opiate withdrawal & overdose

The onset of withdrawal symptoms begins within a few hours from the last dosage and has the potential to last for a few days. Not only is opiate withdrawal uncomfortable, it can also be life-threatening if not done under professional supervision. A person going through withdrawal may experiences any number of the following symptoms:

  • Intense cravings
  • Bone pain
  • Diarrhea
  • Agitation
  • Sweating
  • Muscle cramps
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Insomnia

Opiate overdose occurs when an individual has ingested more than the body can handle. Because opiate overdose has the potential to be life-threatening, medical attention needs to be sought immediately. If the following symptoms are present it may indicate an overdose:

  • Change in skin tone
  • Limp limbs
  • Choking or gurgling sounds
  • Inability to speak
  • Shallow breathing
  • Seizures
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Vomiting