signs of opiate use

Opioid Addiction: Signs and Symptoms

Opioid addiction is a deadly epidemic. From 2002-2017, deaths involving opioid drugs quadrupled. Prescription opioids are often readily available under brand names such as:

  • Vicodin
  • OxyContin
  • Percocet
  • Demerol
  • Darvon

When these drugs are misused, they’re highly addictive. If you think you or a loved one is addicted to opioids, keep reading. You’ll learn about the signs of opioid addiction, effects of opioid abuse and how to get help.

Are You Addicted to Opioids?

Opioid medications can have many beneficial effects when prescribed by a doctor for physical pain. They can:

  • Make complex surgeries possible
  • Relieve physical discomfort for millions of people
  • Help people with certain medical conditions control their symptoms

Taking prescription pain medication without a doctor’s supervision can be dangerous, and even deadly. With abuse of prescription opioids often comes physical and psychological dependence. Prescription painkillers interact with the nervous system. They block nerve signals of pain. Some act on parts of the brain tied to pleasure. The brain has a harder time naturally preventing pain and producing pleasure signals with opioid abuse. It’s dependent on the excess of painkillers to do the work. This is how physical dependence develops.

Opioid addiction signs and symptoms include:

  • Needing more of the drug to get the effect you want
  • Continuing to use opioid prescription drugs even though your medical condition is better
  • Running out of medication before the next refill
  • “Doctor shopping” to obtain more prescribed opioids than needed
  • Problems focusing or feeling “foggy” much of the time
  • Large changes in mood and energy
  • Getting defensive when others show concern for your prescription painkiller use
  • Avoiding social activities or loved ones
  • Decline in self-care: poor personal hygiene, eating habits and sleep patterns
  • Forgetfulness
  • Sensitivity to sounds and sights
  • Neglecting job, family, school or personal responsibilities because of opioid abuse
  • Physical or psychological withdrawal symptoms without opioids
  • Failed attempts to quit or lessen opioid drug use on your own

Concern that you have a problem with drugs or alcohol is usually a sure sign that you do.

Recognizing Opioid Addiction in a Loved One

Prescription painkiller addiction is probably more common than you think. Over 11 million Americans over age 12 said they misused prescription opioids at least once in 2017. This is according to the recent National Survey on Drug Use and Health. It can be a slippery slope from using prescription opioids for a medical issue to becoming addicted to opioids. Many people with substance use disorders obtain prescription painkillers illegally and abuse them.

If you’re concerned a loved one is addicted to opioids, look for these warning signs of prescription painkiller addiction:

  • Taking prescribed opioids differently than directed by their doctor
  • Risky behavior like drinking alcohol while on prescription painkillers
  • Jeopardizing work, school or relationships
  • Seeing several different doctors for the same or similar complaints
  • Poor attention or memory
  • Changes in sleep, personal hygiene and other self-care measures
  • Mood swings
  • Taking prescription painkillers even when pain is manageable
  • Disinterest in activities or people they once found enjoyable

If your loved one has other risk factors for addiction like mental illness, a family history of addiction or past issues with substance abuse, there may be even more cause for concern.

Effects of Opioid Abuse

Effects of opioid abuse can include physical and mental health issues. Research shows long-term opioid use may put you at risk for:

  • Fractures
  • Damage to organs
  • Loss of pleasure
  • Depression and/or anxiety
  • Chronic constipation
  • Upsetting the system responsible for stress response
  • Breathing issues during sleep
  • Heart failure
  • Hallucinations
  • Opioid overdose
  • Overall poor quality of life
  • Suicidal ideations

Because opioids impact the reward center of the brain, abusing them can lead to mental health issues. When you abuse opioids it causes a surge in feel-good chemicals. That’s what provides the euphoric feeling opioid abusers seek. Opioid abuse begins depleting “feel-good” chemicals. Without normal amounts of brain chemicals like dopamine and serotonin, you’re at high risk for mental health disorders like depression.

Why Opioid Addiction Requires Drug Rehab

Opioid addiction is one of the most difficult substance use disorders to kick. There’s a high risk for relapse and opioid overdose. Some of the reasons inpatient drug rehab is usually a necessary part of recovery for opiate addiction include:

Painful Opioid Withdrawal Symptoms

Many people who try to quit opiates on their own relapse because of the discomfort of withdrawal. Detox from prescription drugs like Oxycontin or illicit drugs like heroin is difficult without medical help. Continued use of opiates can change how nerve cells in the brain function. Suddenly stopping opiates can bring on severe physical discomfort and unpleasant feelings. The body can no longer regulate itself. Opioid withdrawal symptoms can feel unbearable without professional medical help.

Withdrawal symptoms of opiate abuse may include:

  • Muscle and bone aches
  • Intense drug cravings
  • Lethargy and confusion
  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Dehydration
  • Restlessness
  • Anxiety

High Rates of Relapse

Without long-term, intensive treatment following opioid detox, relapse is almost unavoidable. Some research shows opioid relapse rates as high as 88%. This is after 12-36 months following detox. Inpatient drug rehab offers space from triggers that fuel drug abuse. It provides time to build relapse prevention skills. Opioid abusers can begin medication assisted treatment (MAT). This is considered the gold standard of opioid addiction treatment. This is a life-saving combination of medication for opioid addiction and behavioral therapy. It may keep as much as half of opioid abusers sober 18 months after quitting according to The National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Co-Occurring Disorders

Drug abuse and mental health disorders commonly co-occur in people. People are more at risk for painkiller addiction when they also have co-occurring mental health issues. These may include anxiety, depression and personality disorders. For instance, one study by the Medical University of South Carolina finds almost half of people that abuse opioids also have an anxiety or mood disorder. Another study by University of Michigan and Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center finds 7.2 million of 38.6 million people with anxiety and depression take opioids. They also find people with mental illness are more likely than those without mental health disorders to take prescription painkillers.

The numbing and “euphoric” effect from high doses of some prescription painkillers can become a form of self-medication. This is true for people suffering from physical pain as well as psychological pain. Inpatient drug rehab provides psychiatric and substance abuse treatment together. This allows people with drug and alcohol addictions to manage mental health disorder symptoms so they don’t feel the need to self-medicate them.

Need Help for Opioid Addiction?

Opioid painkillers are dangerous when you abuse them. They’re also often a gateway to other drugs like heroin. Clarity Way can help. We provide opioid addiction treatment that’s research based. Get safe and comfortable medical detox. Receive effective substance abuse treatment that will help you turn your life around. Read more about opioid addiction treatment or ask our recovery advisors your questions: 888-879-1289.


Krisi Herron

Medically Reviewed by

Krisi Herron, LCDC

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