Signs of Opioid Addiction

signs of opioid abuse
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By: Renaissance Recovery

Clinically Reviewed by: Diana Vo, LMFT

Last Updated:


Authored By: Joe Gilmore

Table of Contents

The signs of opioid addiction will vary depending on the substance of abuse and other variables. Today’s guide will help you to establish whether someone you love might be struggling with opioid use disorder.

Since the late 1990s, the United States has experienced on an ongoing opioid epidemic. By 2017, the government declared the opioid crisis a Public Health Emergency. The most recent data from SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) shows that over 2.6 million U.S. adults met the criteria for opioid use disorder in 2020.

Physicians are now prescribing fewer opioid-based painkillers, although CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) reports that the opioid epidemic is in a third wave due to the ongoing dangers of synthetic opioids like fentanyl.

Familiarizing yourself with the warning signs of opioid addiction is worthwhile if you know someone using this class of medication. While opioids can be highly effective, they are classified as Schedule II narcotics under the Controlled Substances Act. This scheduling is due to the high potential of opioids for abuse and addiction.

Addiction to opioids or opiates can involve any of the following substances:

  • Oxycodone
  • Hydrocodone
  • Fentanyl
  • Heroin
  • Morphine
  • Codeine
  • Opium
  • Methadone

We’ll now look at some of the most common warning signs of opioid addiction.

Signs and Symptoms of Opioid Addiction

The signs and symptoms of opioid addiction differ from person to person, and according to the specific substance. Some indicators might be detectable soon after the initiation of opioid use. Other symptoms may not manifest for many months.

From the onset of opioid use, any of the following signs may be visible:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Mood swings
  • Insomnia
  • Reduced libido
  • Weight loss
  • Flu-like symptoms
  • Impaired coordination
  • Drowsiness
  • Slurred speech
  • Lowered personal hygiene standards
  • Reduction in fitness levels and activity
  • Isolating behaviors

If you notice the presentation of any of those symptoms in a loved one using opioid painkillers, you should monitor for the signs of a developing opioid addiction. Like all addictions, opioid use disorder is a chronic, relapsing, and incurable brain condition. Fortunately, opioid addiction responds favorably to MAT (medication-assisted treatment) and psychotherapy.

The sustained abuse of any form of opioids is typically characterized by an array of physical and psychological signs.

Due to the risk of fatal opioid overdose, it is advisable that anyone with an opioid addiction engages with professional treatment at their earliest opportunity.

Physical Signs

If you are worried about a loved one who is using opioids, there are some common physical markers indicating that addiction is developing.

These are the most reported physical signs of opioid addiction:

  • Slurred speech
  • Dilated pupils
  • Drowsiness
  • Slow movements
  • Reduced blood pressure levels
  • Slow heart rate
  • Low body temperature
  • Less sensitivity to pain
  • Weight loss
  • Vomiting
  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea
  • Cramping
  • Joint pain
  • Muscle pain
  • Itchy skin
  • Headaches
  • Seizure
  • Coma

Mental Signs

Taking opioids causes the body to release dopamine in large amounts. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter or chemical messenger associated with positive feelings that stimulates reward pathways in the brain. When this occurs, your brain craves more opioids so that the pleasurable feelings are reexperienced.

Ongoing opioid use damages those reward pathways and triggers structural changes. At the same time, the brain struggles to recognize natural dopamine release. This often leads to the individual experiencing reduced pleasure in everyday activities and permanent changes to the reward center of the brain.

Look out for any of these mental signs of opioid addiction in a loved one using this class of medication:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Dramatic mood swings
  • Difficulties with focus
  • Confusion
  • Disorientation
  • Extreme behavior changes
  • Distorted perceptions of reality
  • Tolerance to opioids
  • Powerful cravings for opioids
  • Difficulty controlling use of opioids
  • Withdrawal symptoms when effects of opioids wear off

What to Do When You Recognize the Signs of Opioid Addiction

Even if you start using opioids as prescribed, tolerance, dependence, and addiction can all develop.

If you are using opioids in any form and you notice a cluster of the physical and mental symptoms outlined above, consult your prescribing physician, and voice your concerns.

If you believe that a loved one is abusing opioids to the point of addiction developing, learn as much as you can about addiction and recovery so you can more fully understand what they are going through. You should then try to initiate an ongoing dialogue. Help your loved one to engage with professional treatment and support them throughout the process.

Opioid addiction is a chronic and incurable condition, but it almost always responds favorably to a combination of medication-assisted treatment and behavioral interventions. We can help you with that at Renaissance Recovery Center.

Opioid Addiction Treatment at Renaissance Recovery

If you or a loved one is dependent on opioids, we can help you initiate a sustained recovery here at Renaissance Recovery in Orange County.

We specialize in the outpatient treatment of addictions, allowing you to move from addiction into ongoing recovery without needing to head to residential rehab.

Our IOP (intensive outpatient program) offers 15 hours of therapy sessions each week at our Huntington Beach treatment facility. Between sessions, you will return home or to a sober living community.

If you require more support and structure to combat opioid addiction, our PHP (partial hospitalization program) offers 35 hours of therapy sessions each week.

All Renaissance Recovery treatment programs for opioid addiction draw from the following evidence-based practices:

  • MAT (medication-assisted treatment)
  • Psychotherapy (CBT or DBT)
  • Family therapy
  • Group counseling
  • Individual counseling
  • Holistic therapies

Whether you step down to a less intensive form of treatment or move directly back into daily living, your treatment team will equip you with an aftercare plan that involves relapse prevention strategies and access to our alumni program.Move from active opioid addiction into ongoing recovery with the help of Renaissance Recovery. Call 866.330.9449 for immediate assistance.

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Joseph Gilmore has been in the addiction industry for three years with experience working for facilities all across the country. Connect with Joe on LinkedIn.

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