Common Signs & Symptoms of Opioid Addiction

Get in front of an opioid addiction by learning the signs and symptoms. Read what causes opioid addiction, what signs to look out for, and potential long-term effects. Understanding your symptoms is the first step to successful healing.

Understanding Opioids

Learn about opioids and substance abuse

Opioids are a category of powerful, addictive drugs. These substances interact with areas of your central nervous system that control heart rate, breathing, and feelings of pleasure and pain.  

Some opioids, such as morphine, fentanyl, and many prescription painkillers, have valuable medical benefits when used appropriately. Other opioids, such as heroin, are used primarily as a source of an illicit high. 

Any use of an opioid can put you at risk for addiction. However, this risk is magnified if you attempt to self-medicate, or if you use an opioid for recreational purposes.  


Opioid addiction statistics 

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) have reported the following statistics about opioid abuse in the United States: 

Causes & Risks

Causes and risk factors for opioid addiction  

Your risk for developing an addiction to opioids can be influenced by several factors, including the following: 

  • Family history of addiction or mental illness 
  • Prior substance use 
  • Personal history of conduct disorder during childhood or adolescence 
  • Past or current struggles with certain other mental health disorders 
  • Having an impulsive or novelty-seeking personality 
  • Having easy access to opioids 
  • Being prescribed an opioid for an injury or medical condition  


Signs and symptoms of opioid addiction 

The following are among the more common signs that a person has become dependent upon an opioid: 

Behavioral symptoms: 

  • “Doctor shopping,” or trying to get prescriptions for opioids from multiple physicians 
  • Borrowing or stealing opioids that were prescribed to someone else 
  • Using opioids when it is clearly dangerous to do so, such as when driving an automobile or drinking alcohol  
  • Continuing to use opioids even after experiencing negative outcomes due to past use 
  • Lying or being otherwise deceptive about your opioid use 
  • Trying but failing to stop using opioids 

Physical symptoms: 

  • Fatigue or lethargy 
  • Dry mouth 
  • Watery eyes  
  • Runny nose 
  • Itchiness 
  • Constipation 
  • Unintentional weight loss 

Mental symptoms: 

  • Problems with focus or concentration 
  • Memory problems 
  • Impaired judgment 
  • Dramatic mood swings 
  • Anxiety 
  • Paranoia 


Effects of opioid addiction and substance abuse

Ongoing untreated opioid addiction can expose you to considerable harm, including the following negative outcomes: 

  • Strained or lost friendships 
  • Family discord 
  • Liver damage 
  • Kidney damage 
  • Heart damage 
  • Heart problems 
  • Physical injury due to actions taken while impaired by opioids 
  • Onset or worsening of mental health disorders 
  • Substandard performance at work or in school 
  • Chronic absenteeism 
  • Academic failure 
  • Job loss  
  • Unemployment 
  • Financial struggles 
  • Legal problems such as arrest and incarceration 
  • Social withdrawal 
  • Isolation 
  • Pervasive sense of hopelessness and helplessness 
  • Suicidal thoughts 
  • Suicidal behaviors 

When you seek treatment for opioid addiction, you can avoid outcomes such as the ones listed above, and can begin to heal from past harm. With proper professional care, your life can get much better. 

Co-Occurring Disorders

Opioid addiction and co-occurring disorders

If you develop an addiction to opioids, you may also be at increased risk for the following co-occurring disorders: 

  • Other substance use disorders 
  • Depression 
  • Antisocial personality disorder 
  • Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) 

Withdrawal & Overdose

Effects of opioid withdrawal and overdose

Effects of withdrawal: Opioid withdrawal can be extremely painful, and may include symptoms such as the following: 

  • Intense cravings for opioids 
  • Severe cramping 
  • Pain in muscles and bones 
  • Excessive perspiration 
  • Nausea 
  • Vomiting 
  • Diarrhea 
  • Depression 
  • Anxiety 
  • Agitation 

Effects of overdose: Opioid use can impact breathing and heart rate, which means that overdose can be devastating. Anyone who exhibits the following symptoms after using an opioid needs immediate medical attention: 

  • Extreme confusion or disorientation 
  • Slow or labored breathing 
  • Diminished heart rate 
  • Inability to be awakened 
  • Muscle spasms 
  • Seizure 
  • Bluish skin near fingertips or lips