Signs & Symptoms of Opiate Abuse

For over 35 years, Vantage Point is the area’s only full-service mental health facility with a complete continuum of psychiatric and behavioral health services for adults and senior adults.

Understanding Opiates

Learn about opiate addiction and substance abuse

The term opiate refers to any type of narcotic opioid alkaloids that come from opium poppy plants and includes Vicodin, OxyContin, and the illegal street version, heroin. Opiates, also interchangeably called “narcotics,” work to depress the central nervous system and are commonly used to reduce pain or to help people fall asleep. They can also be used to quiet feelings of uneasiness and help a person rest and relax. While some opiates are prescribed by doctors to help treat legitimate pain-related ailments, their effects can sometimes lead to addiction. Opiates create a sense of euphoria, which can be extremely appealing to many individuals. The more that people use different types of opiates, the higher their tolerance becomes, causing them to need larger doses in order to feel the same high. While opiate addiction can feel like a never-ending downward spiral, with the right treatment and care, you can overcome an addiction to opioids.


Opiate addiction statistics

The type of opiate that is most prominently abused is heroin. However, painkillers are becoming just as prevalent and can be equally as dangerous. It’s estimated that 5 million people in the United States are addicted to prescription opiates, and the National Institute on Drug Abuse estimates that 52 million people have experimented with opiates for recreational purposes at least once. While opioid abuse can begin at any age, studies have shown that the average age for experimentation is getting younger and younger. One in 12 high school seniors report nonmedical use of prescription pain pills like Vicodin, while 1 in 20 report abusing OxyContin. In the United States, 18% of people who enter treatment for addiction are abusing opiates.

Causes & Risk Factors

Causes and risk factors for opiate addiction

The causes and risk factors of opioid abuse will vary from person to person, but it is believed that a combination of social, genetic, psychodynamic, and pharmacological factors can interact to induce addiction. The following are some examples of factors that can play a role in the onset of opioid addiction:

Genetic: It has been stated that there is a high degree of genetic vulnerability when it comes to opioid dependence. People are more susceptible to the onset of opiate addiction if biological family members (such as parents or siblings) suffer from an addiction as well.

Physical: Theories have been made that state that opioids help a person’s ego by managing the painful effects of things such as anxiety, anger, and guilt, among others. Dopamine and serotonin receptors are two aspects of the brain that are affected when an individual begins using opioids. As the chemicals become imbalanced, the likelihood that a person will develop an addiction increases.

Environmental: When people have easy access to opiates, they are more likely to experiment with the drug. Similarly, the fact that the use of prescription opiates is accepted socially makes the drug seem less dangerous. Studies have also shown that there is a higher rate of drug use in areas with higher crime rates, a high degree of unemployment, and poor parental interaction.

Risk Factors:

  • Preexisting mental health issues
  • Chronic pain
  • Family history of addiction
  • Poor familial dynamics
  • Easy access to opiates
  • Exposure to crime and/or violence

Signs & Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of opiate addiction

The signs and symptoms of opiate addiction will also vary from person to person based on the level of intoxication that results from a person’s consumption. The following are some examples of symptoms that may present themselves in people who abuse opiates:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Slurred speech
  • Increased irritability towards others
  • Violence
  • Abuse
  • Angry outbursts
  • Theft
  • DUIs
  • Borrowing or stealing money

Physical symptoms:

  • Constriction of pupils
  • Sleepiness or insomnia
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea
  • Lowered blood pressure
  • Lowered heart rate

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Variable concentration
  • Drowsiness
  • Memory impairment
  • Intermittent periods of dozing

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Fluctuations in a person’s mood
  • Agitation
  • Anger
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Irritability


Effects of opiate addiction

Untreated, the effects of opiate abuse and addiction can range from relatively mild to life-shattering. Long-term complications of opiate abuse and addiction will impact virtually all aspects of a person’s life and may include:

  • Marital issues
  • Family problems
  • Significant changes in social behavior
  • Social isolation
  • Loss of interest in things that one used to be interested in
  • Work or school problems (absences, poor performance)
  • Legal problems
  • Loss of friendships
  • Arrests
  • Medical problems

Withdrawal & Overdose

Effects of withdrawal and overdose

The effects of opiate withdrawal can be uncomfortable but are not normally life-threatening. However, withdrawal should always take place in a supervised medical atmosphere. After a person stops using opiates, the symptoms that they experience can last for anywhere between a week to one month. Various withdrawal symptoms that a person may suffer from after ending their opioid use can include:

  • Runny nose and teary eyes
  • Irritability
  • Mood swings
  • Variable concentration
  • Low energy
  • Hot and cold sweats
  • Stomach cramping
  • Anxiety
  • Insomnia
  • Nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea
  • Central nervous system arousal (including restlessness, sleeplessness, and tremors)

Although withdrawal from opiates is not typically life-threatening, overdosing on the drug can be fatal. It has been estimated that approximately 17,000 people die as a result of opioid overdose in the U.S. every year. The effects of an overdose can include symptoms similar to those of withdrawal, but can also include:

  • Blacking out
  • Slowed pulse rate
  • Shallow, slow respirations
  • Pinpoint pupils
  • Coma

Co-Occurring Disorders

Opiate addiction and co-occurring disorders

Like most drug addictions, there are a number of mental illnesses that can coincide with one’s addiction to opiates. Some examples of such illnesses can include:

  • Depressive disorders
  • Anxiety disorders
  • PTSD
  • ADHD
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Addiction to other substances

I had a great experience at this facility. I have been to one other facility in the past and I can really tell the difference. The process starts with a FREE assessment and it was done relatively quickly. The staff were empathetic and seemed to really care about helping me. Once I got on the unit I met with other staff who were equally helpful. I got to meet with my doctor and therapist while here and my stay was actually pretty comfortable. I was especially pleased with the beginning stages as I was desperate for help and I got it quickly. The hospital is open 24/7 and an assessment can be done without an appointment.

– A Former Resident