Opiate Addiction Effects, Signs & Symptoms

At Mount Regis Center, we offer an intensive, evidence-based approach to opiate use disorder treatment. We offer a variety of therapeutic interventions that help our clients build a strong foundation for long-term recovery.

Understanding Opiates

Learn about opiate addiction and substance use disorder

Opiate, or opioid painkillers are narcotic medications prescribed by a medical doctor to manage pain in many individuals. Opioid narcotics include such medications as codeine, morphine, dihydrocodone, methadone, OxyContin, hydrocodone, and heroin. While opiate painkillers do vary in how powerful the narcotic element of the prescription medication, opiates are sedating painkillers that depress the central nervous system, slow down body functioning, and reduce physical and psychological pain. While many prescription opioid narcotics are used in the manner in which they were intended for the duration prescribed without problems, certain individuals may become addicted to the way in which narcotic painkillers make them feel.

Created from the flower of the opium poppy, opiate narcotics have been used for hundreds of years to treat pain, diarrhea, and sleeplessness. Opiate narcotics act upon the opioid receptors in the central nervous system and the brain.  Prolonged usage may lead to brain damage which can stop the body from producing natural opiates – a neurotransmitter called “endorphins.” This can cause the body to become unable to manage pain naturally and lead to high amounts of pain when an individual attempts to quit using.

Certain people become addicted to the feelings of emotional well-being and euphoria narcotics provide emotionally numbing themselves of the effects of past traumas or undiagnosed mental illnesses. As these medications are strictly managed by the FDA and DEA, a medical provider generally prescribes the drug for a certain period of time and then stops. This can lead an individual to go through a painful and dangerous withdrawal, often leading them to a cheap and easy way of obtaining the same effects by using heroin. Heroin abuse, due to the inconsistent levels of purity and IV injection, can lead to much more devastating health and interpersonal problems.

Many individuals who abuse opiate narcotics grow tolerant to the dosage they’ve been prescribed and find themselves taking more and more of the drug to achieve the same desired high. In order to augment the high from opiate painkillers, many individuals opt to abuse other central nervous depressants such as alcohol or benzodiazepines. While this practice may lead to a better high, the effects of using two or more central nervous system depressants can also lead to serious health consequences such as overdose and death.

Opiate addiction and withdrawal are two very serious conditions requiring the skills of trained medical professionals to safely detox.


Opiate addiction statistics

Opioid abuse has increased substantially from the 1990’s to today. The increased amount of opiate addicts parallels the availability of far higher-purity heroin; allowing heroin abusers to get high via snorting or smoking heroin rather than injecting it. Between 1999 and 2006, individuals aged 12 and older using prescription pain medication for non-medical reasons increased from 2.6 million to 5.2 million.

In 2006, 5.2 million people self-reported abusing prescription opiate narcotics in the past month. Opioid addiction affects nearly 5 million people in the US, leading to over 17,000 deaths every single year.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and risk factors for opiate addiction

While the exact cause one person develops an addiction while another does not is yet to be determined. It’s thought addiction is the product of many factors working interchangeably. These factors include:

Genetic: Individuals who have a first-degree relative who have an addiction disorder are more likely to develop an addiction themselves. While not a precise indicator – not all individuals who have addicts as parents or siblings develop an addiction – it is a factor believed to contribute to addiction.

Biological: It’s been suggested certain individuals may be born with a lack of the neurotransmitter “endorphins.” In an attempt to self-medicate this inborn deficit, individuals may perhaps, turn to external sources, such as opium narcotics, to obtain these neurotransmitters.

Environmental: Individuals who grow up in a chaotic home environment and are surrounded by addiction are more likely to develop an addiction later in their lifetime.

Psychological: As many addictions are caused by an individual attempting to self-medicate the symptoms of an undiagnosed co-occurring mental disorder, mental illness can be a strong indicator of addiction potential.

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of opiate addiction

There are a cascade of symptoms of opiate addiction. While not all individuals struggling with opiate addiction will display all of the symptoms, the most common symptoms someone is struggling with an opiate addiction are:

Mood symptoms:

  • Mood swings
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Euphoric mood for a few hours
  • Irritability

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Forging prescriptions for opiates
  • Stealing narcotics from friends and family
  • Robbing pharmacies and other medication dispensaries
  • Not fulfilling familial and other responsibilities
  • Decreased performance at job or school
  • Preoccupation with obtaining, using, and recovering from usage of opiates
  • Lying to others to cover the amount of drug taken
  • Withdrawing from once-pleasurable activities
  • Social isolation
  • Restlessness
  • Lethargy

Physical symptoms:

  • Exhaustion
  • Pain relief
  • Respiratory depression
  • Sedation
  • Muscle spasms
  • Vomiting
  • Insomnia
  • Constipation
  • Itching
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Sweating
  • Seizures
  • Coma
  • Death

Psychological symptoms:

  • Addiction
  • Memory problems
  • Hallucinations
  • Delusions
  • Paranoia
  • Worsening of mental health
  • Decrease in emotional well-being
  • Increase in symptoms of mental illness


Effects of opiates

The effects of opiate addiction can be far-reaching and devastating to all involved. Not a single part of an opiate addict’s life goes unscathed by the narcotic. Some of the most common effects of opiate abuse include:

  • Job loss
  • Incarceration
  • Divorce
  • Bleeding ulcers
  • Domestic abuse
  • Child abuse
  • Homelessness
  • Financial ruin
  • Liver damage
  • Kidney damage
  • Damage to major organs
  • Seizures
  • Damage to brain structure and functioning
  • Damage to memory formation
  • Overdose
  • Seizures
  • Coma
  • Death

Co-Occurring Disorders

Opiate addiction & Co-Occurring disorders

Many addictions are accompanied by co-occurring mental disorders. Some of the most common co-occurring disorders are:

  • Bipolar disorder
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Depressive disorders
  • Schizophrenia
  • Conduct disorders
  • Antisocial personality disorder
  • Borderline personality disorder

Withdrawal & Overdose

Effects of opiate withdrawal and overdose

The effects of opiate withdrawal can be very unpleasant for the addict. Symptoms and effects will vary depending upon the length of the addiction, the amount of drug used, and the frequency the narcotic was abused. Withdrawal from narcotics should always be done under the close supervision of medical personnel. Common effects of opiate withdrawal include:

  • Nausea
  • Stomach cramping
  • Bone and muscle pain
  • Goosebumps and chills
  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Anxiety
  • Intense cravings for the drugs
  • Insomnia
  • Dilated pupils
  • Irritation and agitation
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Seizures
  • Spiked fevers
  • Coma
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