Opiate Abuse & Addiction Symptoms, Signs, Causes & Effects

Opiate addiction can rob you of your health, your dignity, and your hope for a better tomorrow. At Blue Ridge Mountain Recovery Center, you will reconnect with your best self, and begin to build the foundation for a more promising future.

What is Opiate Abuse

Learn More About Opiate Abuse

Opiates are powerful narcotic pain relievers that provide relief for individuals struggling with chronic pain by enhancing the effects of the neurotransmitters endorphins and enkephalins and behaving as receptors for these naturally-occurring biological chemicals. Opiates act by reducing pain, suppressing anxiety and if taken in high doses, provide the user an overwhelming feeling of euphoric bliss.

Opioids act by binding to the opioid receptors on neurons that exist throughout the immune system and nervous system of the body. Many individuals obtain a valid prescription for opioid painkillers to manage mild-to-moderate pain conditions, take the medication as directed, and have no further problems. However, in certain individuals, the usage of opiate narcotics as painkillers can turn into a far more serious problem, opiate addiction.

Many who become addicted to opiates become addicted to the pleasurable sensations that high doses of opiates cause, often in an attempt to numb uncomfortable emotions or cope with highly stressful situations. While commonly prescribed to be taken orally, opiate addicts often crush the tablets and snort them or dilute them in water for IV injection allowing for a more rapid and intense high.

There are three different classes of opiate narcotics that include:

Naturally-occurring opiates are opium and morphine. Opium is extracted from the Papaver soniferum plant (poppy plant) and morphine is the primary and active component of opium. Endorphins and enkephalins are natural opiates found in our central nervous system.

Semi-synthetic opiates are created by using compounds from natural sources like plants as their building blocks. Semi-synthetic opiates include oxycodone, Vicodin, OxyContin oxymorphone, hydrocodone, and heroin.

Synthetic opioids are laboratory created using large molecules that are synthesized from smaller building blocks. Synthetic opiates include codeine, fentanyl, methadone, and buprenorphine.

Many individuals who are addicted to opiates also abuse other substances such as alcohol and benzodiazepines in order to intensify the sedating effect. Others use opioids as a way to ward off uncomfortable side effects of stimulants such as meth or cocaine. Poly-substance abuse magnifies the dangers of abusing opiates and can cause even greater negative health consequences.

Opiate addiction can be managed with proper detoxification and addiction treatment, as well as treatment of co-occurring mental illnesses.


Statistics on Opiate Abuse

Opioid abuse has increased dramatically from the 1990’s to today. The increased amount of opiate addicts corresponds with the accessibility of far higher-purity heroin; allowing heroin abusers to get high via snorting or smoking heroin rather than injecting it. Between the years of 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 almost 5 million people in the US, causing over 17,000 deaths each year.


Causes of Opiate Abuse & Addiction

Most cases of addiction to opiates do not have a clear-cut reason. Addiction is likely the combination of a number of factors working together. These factors may include:

Genetic: It’s been shown that individuals who have a first-degree relative – a parent or sibling – with an addiction will grow to develop an addiction themselves.

Brain Chemistry: Individuals who are born lacking proper functioning of opiate receptors in the brain may abuse opiate narcotics in order to feel “normal.”

Environmental: Children who grow up in chaotic home environments that are riddled with addiction may grow to believe that substance abuse is the way to cope with uncomfortable emotional stressors.

Psychological: Many individuals who struggle with other addictions or untreated mental illnesses may abuse substances in order to self-medicate their problems away. This, in turn, creates additional problems making treatment for opiate addiction more challenging.

Co-Occurring Disorders

Co-Occurring Disorders and the Complexity of Opiate Addiction

Many individuals who develop addictions are also suffering from undiagnosed mental health disorders. These disorders may include:

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

Signs & Symptoms

Signs and Symptoms of Opiate Abuse

The symptoms of opiate addiction will vary among individuals as well as with the amount and frequency that opiates are abused. Some of the more notable symptoms include:

Mood symptoms:

  • Depression
  • Mood swings
  • Agitation
  • Anxiety
  • Irritability

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Drowsiness
  • Slurred speech
  • “Doctor shopping” or visiting a number of doctors to obtain prescriptions for more opiates
  • Using larger amounts of opioids than prescribed
  • Using medication in a manner that is not intended
  • Taking opiates for longer than prescribed
  • Persistent unsuccessful attempts to quit taking opiates
  • Desire to cut down on opiate use
  • Preoccupation with obtaining, using, and recovering from the effects of opiates
  • Craving opiates
  • Compulsive opiate abuse
  • Usage of opiates results in failure to fulfill roles at work, home, school, or socially
  • Recurrent usage of opiates despite negative consequences
  • Using opiates in physically dangerous situations – such as while driving
  • Decrease in personal hygiene

Physical symptoms:

  • Constriction of pupils
  • Constipation
  • Inability to regulate temperature
  • Hypotension
  • Itching
  • Cough suppression
  • Pain relief
  • Respiratory depression
  • Tolerance
  • Withdrawal
  • Coma

Psychological symptoms:

  • Hallucinations
  • Delusions
  • Memory loss
  • Delirium
  • Psychosis
  • Worsening mental illness
  • Changes in personality


Effects of Opiate Addiction

The effects of addiction to opiates are far-reaching, leaving virtually no part of an opiate addict’s life untouched. These effects may include:

  • Organ system damage
  • Increase in whole body pain
  • Permanent changes to brain structure and function
  • Hepatotoxicity
  • Damaged interpersonal relationships
  • Respiratory depression
  • Psychosis
  • Incarceration
  • Legal problems
  • Financial difficulties
  • Divorce
  • Coma
  • Seizures
  • Death


Withdrawal Symptoms of Opiate Abuse

Withdrawing from opiate addiction is a highly unpleasant experience and should involve the care of trained medical staff to manage the symptoms and prevent complications. Withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Intense craving for the opiate
  • Sleeplessness
  • Tremors
  • Diarrhea
  • Sweating
  • Runny eyes and nose
  • Shivering
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Goosebumps
  • Restlessness
  • Bone pain
  • Diffuse muscle aches
  • Abdominal cramping

I cannot say enough great things about the Blue Ridge program and the staff who work there.

– Oliver
Marks of Quality Care
  • Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities (CARF)
  • National Association of Addiction Treatment Providers (NAATP)
  • PsychArmor
  • Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)