Signs and Symptoms of Opioid Addiction

Opioids are a group of narcotic substances that are made from derivatives of the poppy plant and are often used to treat physical pain. When taken, opioids activate opioid receptors in the brain, causing the user to feel relief from pain and bringing about feelings of relaxation. When used specifically as prescribed, opioids can be highly effective. However, if these substances are misused, they can cause a young individual to experience a number of adverse and potentially life-threatening consequences.

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According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), roughly 52 million people have abused opioids at least one time, including prescription pain medications and heroin. In addition, it is believed that roughly five million people struggle with opioid addiction, and that overdoses on these substances are responsible for nearly 17,000 deaths each year.

Causes and Risk Factors for Opioid Abuse

Researchers have not determined a specific cause for the development of an opioid addiction, though it is believed that many factors play a role. Some of the most common causes and risk factors said to bring about the onset of opioid addiction include:

Genetic: An extensive amount of research shows that a predisposition to the development of addiction can be genetic, as those who have family members that have struggled with substance abuse or addiction are at a greater risk for developing a substance abuse problem.

Environmental: The environment in which a young individual grows up can impact whether or not he or she will develop an opioid addiction. Those who are exposed to continued abuse of drugs like opioids are at a higher risk for also abusing these substances themselves. In addition, the lack of appropriate coping skills, low self-esteem, and not having a solid network of support can all impact one’s likelihood of developing an opioid addiction.

Risk Factors:

  • Exposure to crime and/or violence
  • Being the victim of abuse and/or neglect
  • Suffering from chronic or complex pain
  • Preexisting mental health condition or conditions
  • Family history of substance abuse and addiction
  • Personal history of abusing other drugs and/or alcohol
  • Poor interpersonal relationships
  • Emotional instability
  • Having easy access to opiates
  • Low self-esteem

Signs and Symptoms of Opioid Abuse

There are many different signs and symptoms that a young individual might present with if he or she is abusing opioids. Some of the most common behavioral, physical, cognitive, and psychosocial symptoms that are connected to opioid use disorder include:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Social withdrawal
  • No longer participating in activities that were once enjoyed
  • Emotional outbursts
  • Possessing multiple painkiller prescriptions
  • Stealing or engaging in other illegal activities
  • Aggressive or violent behavior
  • Slurred speech

Physical symptoms:

  • Nausea
  • Sleep difficulties
  • Constricted pupils
  • Diarrhea
  • Drop in blood pressure
  • Constipation
  • Decline in hygiene
  • Slowed heart rate

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Memory problems
  • Detachment from one’s surroundings
  • Loss of concentration
  • Cognitive impairment
  • Confusion
  • Disorientation

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Depression
  • Bouts of anger
  • Suicidal ideation
  • Mood swings
  • Anxiety
  • Irritability
  • Agitation
If you feel that you are in crisis, or are having thoughts about hurting yourself or others, please call 9-1-1 or go to the nearest emergency room immediately.

Effects of Opioid Abuse

If a young individual does not obtain treatment for opioid addiction, he or she can develop a number of dangerous long-term effects. Continued abuse of opioids can lead to physical dependence and addiction, as well as many other upsetting effects, including:

  • Increased risk for infectious diseases
  • Deterioration of mental health
  • Heart damage
  • Liver and kidney damage
  • Conflict within interpersonal relationships
  • Social isolation
  • Increased interaction with the legal system
  • Decline in school performance
  • Death from overdose

Co-Occurring Disorders

Young individuals who are battling an opioid addiction will also sometimes battle one or more additional mental health conditions. Below are some mental illnesses that are frequently diagnosed in a young individual who grapples with opioid abuse:

  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Oppositional defiant disorder (ODD)
  • Borderline personality disorder
  • Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Additional substance abuse
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Depressive disorders

Effects of Withdrawal and Overdose

Effects of opioid withdrawal: Opioid withdrawal refers to a number of symptoms that develop when an individual stops his or her abuse or dramatically reduces it. The effects listed below can occur when an individual is struggling with opioid withdrawal:

  • Diarrhea
  • Dilated pupils
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Sweating
  • Abdominal cramping
  • Muscle aches
  • Insomnia
  • Agitation
  • Anxiety

Effects of opioid overdose: When a young individual consumes more opioids than his or her body can handle, an overdose will occur. Some of the signs that might show that an individual is overdosing on opioids can include:

  • Seizures
  • Coma
  • Death
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Unresponsive to outside stimuli
  • Choking sounds
  • Vomiting
  • Slowed or shallow breathing
  • Slow, erratic pulse
  • Limp body
  • Pale or clammy face
  • Contracted pupils
  • Being awake but unable to talk
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