Symptoms & Signs of Opiate Addiction: How to Recognize Them

Anyone who uses opiates, including first-time users, is exposed to the risk of developing opiate dependence. As a result, learning how to recognize the signs of opiate addiction is crucial to your well-being.

If you aren’t sure what signs and symptoms indicate that someone might be addicted to opiates, look no further.

This article will cover the physical, behavioral, cognitive, and psychosocial signs of opiate addiction, among other things you should know about opiates and addiction.

What Are Opiates? 

Opiates are natural substances with pain-relieving properties that are derived from the poppy plant. They are usually prescribed to treat acute or chronic moderate to severe pain. 

Some examples of opiates are:

woman taking a pill showing sings of opiate addiction

Although some people use the terms “opiates” and “opioids” interchangeably, there is a slight difference between the two. 

Simply put, opiates are natural narcotics, whereas opioids are made artificially. Semi-synthetic opioids, such as hydrocodone and oxycodone, are synthesized from natural opiates, whereas synthetic opioids (e.g., fentanyl) are made in labs to mimic the effects of opiates but do not contain them. 

Nonetheless, today the term “opioid” is commonly used as an umbrella term for all types of pain-relieving drugs that interact with opioid receptors, including opiates. 

Both opiates and opioids can be very addictive, and opiate abuse can be life-threatening. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, almost 81,000 Americans died from opioid overdoses in 2021. Around 13,500 of these deaths are linked to natural and semi-synthetic opioids specifically. 

Unfortunately, although thousands of people lose their lives to opiate dependence every year, statistics show that the number of opiate-related deaths has remained roughly the same since 2015:

a graph showing a number of overdose deaths by class

Opiate Addiction 

Opiates have been used for centuries to manage pain and treat various medical conditions, including diarrhea and insomnia. While some people use opiates recreationally, anyone who uses them risks developing opiate addiction regardless of the intent behind the opiate usage.

Causes of Opiate Addiction 

Opiate addiction, or opioid use disorder (OUD), results from brain changes caused by long-term opiate use.

Like all types of opioids, natural opiates affect the central nervous system. To reduce the perception of pain, opiates bind to opioid receptors and interrupt pain signals from reaching the brain. Besides providing pain relief, opiates often induce euphoric feelings by triggering dopamine release, which can increase the risk of addiction.  

Furthermore, opiates disrupt the natural production of endorphins, which are neurotransmitters that help the body manage pain naturally. At the same time, they stimulate the production of opioid receptors. This causes opiate tolerance, as the body becomes desensitized to opiates and requires higher or more frequent doses to achieve the same effects.

Due to these brain imbalances, people who use opiates not only need increasingly higher doses of the drug but also experience uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms, making it very difficult to stop opiate use. Since these symptoms can also be life-threatening, consulting your doctor before quitting opiates is of utmost importance.

Factors That Can Increase Risk of Opiate Addiction 

Although opiate dependence doesn’t discriminate, some people may be more predisposed to it than others. Some of the environmental, genetic, biological, and psychological factors that can make you more susceptible to developing an opiate addiction include:

  • Having a family history of substance abuse and addiction
  • Growing up in an environment where drugs were used
  • Lacking parental involvement in life
  • Using opiates at a young age
  • Suffering from depression, anxiety, or other mental health disorders
  • Experiencing peer pressure

Symptoms and Signs of Opiate Addiction 

Opiate dependence can manifest in a variety of physical, behavioral, cognitive, and psychosocial signs and symptoms. They vary from one person to another, depending on genetics, the type of opiate used, usage frequency, and other similar factors.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at the most common symptoms and signs of opiate addiction.

Physical Signs 

man showing physical signs of opiate addiction

Most often, opiate users experience the following physical signs of opiate addiction:

  • Withdrawal symptoms. Experiencing opiate withdrawal symptoms (cravings, sweating, etc.) after stopping or reducing opiate use is a tell-tale sign of opiate addiction. To safely come off opiates, seek professional opiate withdrawal treatment.
  • Digestive issues. Diarrhea, constipation, vomiting, and nausea are among the most common physical signs of opiate addiction.
  • Slowed breathing. Opiate use and addiction can depress breathing and decrease respiratory rate, resulting in slow and shallow breaths.
  • Exhaustion. Opiate addiction can lead to a lack of energy, physical exhaustion, and sleepiness.
  • Body aches. People addicted to opiates often experience abdominal cramping, muscle spasms, joint pains, headaches, and similar symptoms.

Behavioral Signs 

Opiate dependence can result in behavioral changes, causing the person to act out of character. The most common behavioral signs of opiate addiction are:

  • Social isolation. Opiate-dependent people may become withdrawn from their loved ones or experience anhedonia (a loss of interest in activities they used to find enjoyable).
  • Lying. Oftentimes, opiate-dependent people will lie about their drug use. They may deny using opiates or downplay the frequency or amount of opiates taken. 
  • Preoccupation with obtaining and using opiates. Opiate-dependent people may borrow money, steal medication from others, or participate in illegal activities to obtain opiates, including doctor shopping and fabricating opiate prescriptions.
  • Poor or decreased job or school performance. Opiate-dependent people often lose motivation and abandon their professional responsibilities. 
  • Speech changes. Opiate addiction can change the way a person speaks. Their speech may become slow, slurred, and, in some cases, incoherent.

Cognitive Signs 

Opiate use affects not only the body but also the mind. Some of the most common cognitive signs of opiate addiction include:

  • Confusion and disorientation. Opiate addiction can leave people confused and disoriented. At worst, they may experience hallucinations or delusions and become disconnected from reality.
  • Decreased attention span. People who are addicted to opiates may find it difficult to focus their attention for extended periods of time.
  • Impaired decision-making. Opiate-dependent people may make poor decisions, have low impulse control, or feel anxiety when required to make a decision.
  • Memory problems. Due to brain damage, opiate-dependent people might experience memory loss and difficulty making new memories.
  • Difficulty communicating. Since opiate addiction affects speech, memory, and attention span, people who suffer from opiate addiction may have trouble communicating with others.

Psychosocial Signs  

a woman showing Psychosocial Signs of opiate addiction

Lastly, the following psychosocial signs and symptoms may be indicative of opiate addiction:

  • Mood changes. Opiate-dependent people often experience rapid emotional fluctuations. They may also become easily irritated, depressed, or anxious.
  • Deteriorated mental health. Opiate addiction can affect people’s mental and emotional well-being and intensify the symptoms of pre-existing mental health conditions.
  • Failure to fulfill familial, professional, and other obligations. Besides poor work or school performance, opiate-dependent people may become disconnected from their loved ones and fail to attend to their needs. 
  • Suicide ideation. Opiate-dependent people may have suicidal thoughts or harm themselves, especially if they feel lonely or suffer from other mental health conditions.

Side Effects of Using Opiates 

Like signs of opiate addiction, the side effects of opiates depend on various factors, including the type of opiate used, the length of abuse, and others. That being said, the side effects of opiates are classified into two groups: short-term and long-term side effects.

Short-Term Side Effects of Opiates

Depending on the type of opiate, the administration route, and the amount taken, short-term side effects of opiates may start within 15–30 minutes of taking the substance. They usually last up to several hours and may include:   

  • Euphoria
  • Feelings of relaxation and calmness
  • Inflated sense of confidence
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Constipation
  • Skin flushing and itching
  • Vision impairment, such as blurred vision
  • Decreased breathing rate
  • Poor judgment
  • Hallucinations
  • Dizziness

Long-Term Side Effects of Opiates 

Opiate abuse may also result in severe long-term side effects, some of which can be fatal.

These may include:

  • Emotional volatility
  • Seizures
  • Stroke
  • Decreased attention span
  • Dehydration
  • Depression and anxiety
  • Weight loss
  • Abscesses
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Heart disease, such as heart attack, arrhythmia, etc.
  • Liver disease, including cirrhosis
  • Kidney damage
  • Coma
  • Death

Dangers of Using Opiates 

a man who's about to take an opiate

The dangers of opiate use extend beyond the side effects mentioned above. Left untreated, opiate addiction can lead to serious problems with your health, family, work, finances, and much more. 

As opiate tolerance develops, people may seek to obtain the drug in dangerous ways, such as by stealing medication or buying illegal drugs to satisfy their cravings. They may also try different intake methods to maximize the effects of opiates. Needless to say, this can lead to an overdose and, in the worst-case scenario, death.

Since impaired decision-making, lowered impulse control, and poor judgment are among the most common signs of opiate addiction, opiate-dependent people may put their health and lives on the line. For example, those who inject opiates may risk contracting HIV/AIDS by sharing needles with others.

Not to mention, opioid use is especially dangerous during pregnancy. Using opioids can increase the risk of stillbirth, birth defects, neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS), and other conditions.  

Can Opiate Addiction be Prevented? 

The good news is that although anyone using opiates can become addicted to them, there are actions you can take to help prevent it from happening.

If you’ve been prescribed opiates, here’s what you can do to minimize the risk of developing opiate dependence:

  • Work closely with your doctor. Talk to your doctor to find out if there are any non-opioid medication alternatives that can help you manage pain. If you take opiates and experience any side effects, inform your doctor about them.
  • Carefully follow your doctor’s instructions. Make sure to take opiates exactly as prescribed. Never increase the opiate dose and the frequency or duration of opiate use without consulting your doctor.
  • Don’t mix substances. Avoid using opiates alongside other substances, such as alcohol, muscle relaxants, and other medications, without discussing them with your doctor.

ANR Opiate Dependence Treatment 

Opiate recovery can be a difficult process, but there’s an effective solution that can make it way more bearable. The revolutionary Accelerated Neuro-Regulation (ANR) treatment enables you to set yourself free from opiate dependence in just a few days!

ANR is the safest and most effective opiate dependence treatment available today. 

Unlike other treatments, it addresses the root cause of opiate addiction – the brain imbalance resulting from opiate use. Thanks to this, you can achieve permanent recovery in a matter of days without risking relapse. The average hospital stay for ANR treatment is only 36 hours!

ANR Opiate Dependence Treatment 

The effectiveness of ANR stems from the fact that it is the only treatment that modulates and re-regulates your brain, including opioid receptors and endorphin systems, to a pre-addiction state. The treatment involves sedation and is performed in an ICU setting in a fully accredited hospital by highly experienced medical professionals.

The ANR Clinic has helped more than 24,000 people worldwide overcome opiate addiction. For your convenience, ANR Centers are located all over the world – from Europe to South America.

Key Takeaways 

Now that you’re aware of the signs of opiate addiction, hopefully, you’ll find it easier to recognize and prevent opiate dependence.

Before you go, let’s quickly review the key points we covered in this article:

  • Opiates are natural substances with pain-relieving properties that change how your body produces endorphins and opioid receptors, which is the underlying cause of opiate addiction.
  • The signs of opiate addiction can be physical (e.g., withdrawal symptoms), behavioral (for example, lying and social isolation), cognitive (such as impaired memory and decision-making), and psychosocial (e.g., worsened mental health).
  • Opiate addiction can be dangerous to your mental, physical, and financial health, but the risk can be reduced by taking opiates exactly as instructed by a doctor.
  • The ANR treatment is a modern opiate dependence treatment that restores your brain to a pre-addiction state, thus allowing you to make a permanent opiate recovery.

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