Signs and symptoms of opioid addiction

There are a number of physical and behavioral signs and symptoms that can suggest someone is addicted to opioids. More on how to recognize and treat opioid addiction here.

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Reviewed by: Dr. Dili Gonzalez, M.D.

What are some of the main signs of addiction?

Do you suspect that someone you know is addicted to opioids? Is it a false alarm or is there fire where there is smoke?

First, physical dependence to an opioid and/or tolerance can be present during addiction. For example, an addicted person might have adapted to the presence of opioids in the system and may require larger doses to relieve pain or to get high. S/he may use the medication more often than prescribed, start running out of prescriptions faster, and display a number of withdrawal symptoms when doses are skipped. These are only a few of the ways you can be alerted that something is wrong with a loved one.

If you are wondering how you can learn the truth about opioid addiction and how this condition is managed, read on. We review signs and symptoms of addiction to opioids and share some alternatives for getting help in this article. More on opioid addiction, available treatment options, what’s the rehab process like, and ongoing recovery care in our detailed GUIDE on Opioid Addiction Treatment Programs & Help. All of your questions are welcomed at the end…and we try to answer each question personally and promptly.

Opioid addiction signs

Opioid addiction can come as a result of opioid drug abuse, or it can occur unintentionally. It is a brain disease that can include physical dependence, but is mainly distinguished by compulsive drug seeking and use despite sometimes devastating consequences.

People addicted to opioids have repeatedly and excessively stimulated the reward pathway of the brain. The effect of such a powerful reward circuit motivates people to repeat that behavior, even when harmful. This is how drug abuse starts to be an action that is associated with pleasure and pain relief. Very quickly, before people even realize, an opioid addiction can take place in their lives.

There are 3 main signs that can be noticed in addicted individuals:

  1. A compulsive need for use and inability to stop.
  2. Loss of control over amount and frequency of use.
  3. Using despite awareness of negative side effects.

Symptoms of opioid addiction

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), published by the American Psychiatric Association (APA) defines addiction as a maladaptive pattern of substance use that leads to clinically significant impairment or distress, as manifested by three (or more) of the following:

  • tolerance to opioids
  • withdrawal symptoms
  • taking larger amounts of opioid(s) over a longer period than intended
  • continuous desire and unsuccessful efforts to cut down or control use
  • spending a great deal of time obtaining and using opioids
  • losing interest in important social, occupational, or recreational activities
  • continued use despite knowledge of possible physical or psychological problems

The consequences of addiction to an opioid drug can be biological, psychological and/or social. If you notice that a friend, family member or a loved one is displaying any of the following changes in these areas, they may be addicted. Here are the signs and symptoms you should be on the lookout for:

Physical signs and symptoms

  • abnormally decreased or increased appetite
  • bloodshot eyes or large/small pupils
  • impaired coordination or slurred speech
  • runny nose
  • sleep changes (sleeping too much or too little)
  • unusual breath, body, or clothing odours

Psychological signs and symptoms

  • anxiety
  • euphoria
  • increased energy
  • irritability
  • mood swings
  • nervousness
  • outbursts of anger
  • paranoia
  • spaced out appearance
  • unexplained personality or attitude changes
  • unusual fear

Behavioral signs and symptoms

  • financial difficulties or unexplained spending
  • giving up hobbies, sports, and socializing
  • lack of care for personal hygiene and appearance
  • legal issues due to fights, accidents, or DUI
  • neglecting work, school, or home responsibilities
  • secretive and suspicious behaviors
  • sudden change in friends

Opioid addiction symptoms: Can they be treated?

Yes, opioid addiction symptoms can be treated. However, it is up to you to seek help for yourself or for a loved one’s opioid addiction.

Q: How can you get a loved one to accept help and enter a treatment program if they are unwilling or not even aware of a problem?
A: One of the most common solutions is to stage an intervention.

An intervention is an orchestrated gathering of friends and family members who share their concern for a loved one with an addiction problem. There are licensed intervention professionals that can help you stage the intervention and guide the event. The goal of interventions is to get the addict to seek professional help and enter treatment.

Help for opioid addiction is most successful when the treatment program is tailored to the individual’s needs. Every person is different, thus every addiction issue is a separate case. Although symptoms may be similar or even universal to some extent, there is no one-size-fits-all type of treatment.

Addiction experts suggest that the combination of medical and psychological support is more effective for the treatment of opioid addiction. Some people feel better in outpatient treatment, where they can stay at home and go to school or work, and still work on their problems. Others find that getting away from everything for a while is more suitable, and decide to stay in a residential treatment facility.

However, there are several must-haves that a good treatment program should offer in order to help you effectively in your battle with opioid addiction. The treatment for opioid addiction should generally consist of:

  1. Medical detox and supervision during withdrawal
  2. Individual (one-on-one), family or group counseling
  3. Behavioral therapy and psychotherapy
  4. Social support and motivation

Your addiction treatment provider should also be able to provide medication assisted therapy, prescribe medications during detox and/or during recovery (if necessary). Pharmacological help, when done right and in combination with psychological treatments can significantly improve your success in recovery and aid prolonged sobriety. Current medicines used to treat opioid addiction include:

Signs of opioid addiction questions

Is there anything more you’d want to learn about the signs and symptoms of opioid addiction? All you need to do is post your questions in the comments section at the end. We will be glad to provide all legitimate inquiries personal and prompt answer, or refer you to someone who can help.

Reference Sources: FDA: Measuring Addiction with DSM Criteria
DrugAbuse: Prescription Drugs: Abuse and Addiction
Indian Health Service: Warning Signs of Drug Abuse and Addiction
NCBI: The Neurobiology of opioid Dependence: Implications for Treatment
NIDA: How do opioids affect the brain and body?
NIDA: America’s Addiction to opioids: Heroin and Prescription Drug Abuse
About the author
Lee Weber is a published author, medical writer, and woman in long-term recovery from addiction. Her latest book, The Definitive Guide to Addiction Interventions is set to reach university bookstores in early 2019.
Medical Reviewers
Dr. Dili Gonzalez, M.D. is a general surgeon practicing women's focused medici...

All of the information on this page has been reviewed and verified by a licensed medical professional.

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