Opiate Addiction Signs & Symptoms

Understanding Opiate Addiction

Learn about opiate addiction & abuse

Opiates, also known as opioids, are substances that are synthesized from the poppy plant. When ingested, opiates affect a person’s nervous system by alleviating pain and causing feelings of relaxation. When abused, however, opiates can cause a person to feel detached from his or her surroundings and cause feelings of euphoria when under the influence.

In addition to heroin and morphine, the two most common non-synthetic opiates, prescription painkillers are also considered opiates and could be habit-forming for a person. Should an individual abuse these substances, he or she can develop a tolerance over time. When tolerance for an opiate forms, an individual requires more of that substance in order to experience the same feelings of euphoria and detachment from the world around him or her. If a person suddenly stops abusing an opiate, such as heroin or a prescription painkiller, withdrawal symptoms could emerge and make overcoming an addiction of this kind seem impossible. Fortunately, there are life-saving opiate addiction treatment options in existence that can help a person win the battle.


Opiate abuse statistics

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) reports that approximately 52 million people have abused opiates at some point in life. It has also been realized through research that, of all individuals who seek chemical dependency treatment, an estimated 18 percent of those people report that opiates are their drug of choice. Lastly, it is estimated that, of the nearly five million people battling an addiction to opiates, 17,000 of those individuals lose their lives each year as a result of overdose.

Causes & Risks

Causes and risk factors for opiate abuse

Since research has yet to yield an isolated cause for an addiction to opiates, addiction experts and mental health professionals alike agree that the following causes and risk factors can explain why a person comes to abuse opiates:

Genetic: Substantial research has concluded that addiction can, in fact, be inherited from one’s biological parents. This discovery was found after researchers realized that individuals with a family history of substance abuse or addiction possess a gene that can make a person more vulnerable to the development of a substance abuse problem. With regards to individuals battling an opiate addiction, it can be said that these people can also inherit this gene if there is a family history of addiction.

Environmental: The primary environment in which one resides or certain circumstances that one is exposed to can greatly impact the development of an addiction to opiates. Those who are exposed to drug abuse or have easy access to substances, such as opiates, have an increased risk for eventually abusing drugs as well. Furthermore, should a person lack appropriate coping skills, have low self-esteem, or possess an inadequate support network, while having ongoing exposure to such environments, it is probable that the abuse of opiates will occur. Lastly, those who have a personal history of abuse, neglect, trauma, or have witnessed a great deal of violence could also come to abuse opiates if the previously mentioned environmental influences are present as well.

Risk Factors:

  • Being in an environment in which drug use is common
  • Low self-esteem
  • Poor interpersonal relationships
  • Emotional instability
  • Exposure to crime and/or violence
  • Being the victim of abuse and/or neglect
  • Suffering from chronic or complex pain
  • Preexisting mental health condition or conditions
  • Family history of substance abuse and addiction
  • Personal history of abusing other drugs and/or alcohol
  • Having easy access to opiates

Signs & Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of opiate abuse

Depending on the longevity of a person’s addiction to opiates, the signs and symptoms of an opiate addiction will vary. Additionally, the severity of one’s addiction can impact the obviousness of such a chemical dependency problem. Below are some behavioral, physical, cognitive, and psycho-social symptoms that suggest an individual may be struggling with an addiction to opiates:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Acting out in an aggressive or violent manner
  • Slurred speech
  • Possessing multiple painkiller prescriptions
  • Stealing money
  • Possessing drug paraphernalia
  • No longer participating in activities that were once enjoyed
  • Outbursts of emotion

Physical symptoms:

  • Constricted pupils
  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea
  • Insomnia or hypersomnia
  • Decline in hygiene
  • Slowed heart rate
  • Drop in blood pressure
  • Constipation

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Poor concentration
  • Cognitive impairment
  • Problems with one’s memory
  • Drowsiness
  • Detachment from one’s surroundings

Psycho-social symptoms:

  • Irritability
  • Mood instability
  • Bouts of anger
  • Suicidal ideation
  • Anxious feelings
  • Depressed mood
  • Agitation


Effects of opiate abuse

Should a person not seek and receive treatment for an opiate addiction, it is probable that that individual will experience a great deal of adversity in every area of his or her life. By engaging in chemical dependency treatment, the listed consequences can be prevented or avoided all together:

  • Difficulty acquiring and maintaining employment
  • Job loss
  • Financial strife
  • Conflict within interpersonal relationships
  • Social isolation
  • Increased interaction with the legal system
  • Deteriorating mental health
  • Decline in good physical health

Co-Occurring Disorders

Opiate abuse & co-occurring disorders

Individuals battling an addiction to opiates frequently struggle with the symptoms of a mental health condition or conditions. The following mental illnesses are those that are often diagnosed in individuals who are grappling with an addiction to opiates, such as heroin or prescription painkillers:

  • Bipolar disorder
  • Depressive disorders
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder
  • Oppositional defiant disorder
  • Borderline personality disorder

Opiates threatened to consume me, it was a very dark time in my life. The counselors and staff at Galax helped me see there was more to live for.

– Jason
Take a Free Online Assessment

An important first step toward treatment of and recovery from addiction.