October 31, 2023

Opioid Addiction: Signs, Symptoms, & Treatment

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Opioid addiction or opiate addiction can quickly and easily develop. Opioids are a broad class of drugs that include prescription drugs like hydrocodone oxycodone, fentanyl, and heroin. Opiates are naturally occurring substances like morphine, codeine, and opium. Opioids can be synthetic (fentanyl) or semi-synthetic (heroin).

All opioids cause tolerance to form, meaning that the effects diminish over time. Many people attempt to counter tolerance by increasing the dose or frequency of dosage. Opioid abuse is likely to accelerate the development of dependence. Opioid dependence is characterized by the presentation of withdrawal symptoms upon discontinuation. Physical dependence on opioids often but not always leads to addiction.

This guide addresses issues that include:

  • Are opioids addictive?
  • Why are opioids addictive?
  • What is opioid addiction?
  • How many people are addicted to opioids in the United States?
  • How to get treatment for addiction to opioids in California.

Signs of Opioid Addiction

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Recognizing the signs of opioid addiction involves focusing on various behavioral and physical cues that may indicate someone is struggling with opioid abuse. Look for the following markers:

  • Neglecting personal hygiene and appearance: Individuals grappling with opioid addiction – clinically described as opioid use disorder – might show a decline in personal grooming and neglect their physical appearance, leading to disheveled clothing, unkempt hair, and poor hygiene practices.
  • Engaging in secretive or deceptive behavior to obtain opioids: Opioid-dependent individuals often resort to secretive or deceptive actions, such as hiding medications, forging prescriptions, or making frequent visits to different doctors – this is known as doctor shopping – to maintain their supply of opioids.
  • Social withdrawal and isolation from family and friends: Those battling opioid addictions may withdraw from social activities and isolate themselves from family and friends, avoiding interactions to conceal their substance abuse or to prevent concerns from being raised.
  • Sudden changes in mood, including increased irritability or aggression: Opioid addiction may trigger dramatic mood swings, with individuals exhibiting heightened irritability, agitation, or unexplained outbursts of anger, often in response to opioid cravings or the inability to access the drug.
  • Financial troubles or unexplained financial strain due to excessive spending on opioids: A telltale sign of opioid addiction is financial duress manifested through increased spending on acquiring opioids, often leading to financial instability, borrowing money, or unexplained financial hardships.
  • Legal issues stemming from the misuse or illegal acquisition of opioids: Individuals struggling with opioid addiction might find themselves entangled in legal troubles, such as arrests or legal complications resulting from the misuse, illegal acquisition, or distribution of opioids.
  • Neglecting or abandoning previously enjoyed hobbies, activities, or responsibilities: Opioid addiction can lead to a loss of interest in activities once considered pleasurable, with individuals neglecting hobbies, social engagements, and responsibilities, focusing instead mainly on opioid use.
  • Constricted pupils or other physical signs like track marks, bruising, or needle marks on the body: Physical signs of opioid addiction may include constricted pupils, needle marks, bruises, or track marks at injection sites, all potentially indicative of intravenous opioid use.
  • Drastic changes in appetite and sleep patterns: Opioid dependence often disrupts eating and sleeping patterns, leading to noticeable changes in appetite, weight, and sleep schedules.
  • Lying or being dishonest about opioid use when confronted by loved ones or medical professionals: Those battling opioid addictions may resort to dishonesty or manipulation when questioned about their substance use, denying or downplaying the severity of their addiction, further complicating the process of seeking help and support.
image of man representing opioid addiction symptoms

Symptoms of Opioid Addiction

Opioid addiction symptoms are outlined in DSM-5-TR (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition, text revision) as follows:

  1. Exceeding prescribed opioid doses or extending usage beyond the intended duration.
  2. Unsuccessful attempts to curtail or manage opioid consumption.
  3. Devoting substantial time to obtaining, using, or recuperating from the effects of opioids.
  4. Experiencing intense cravings or a compelling urge to use opioids.
  5. Inability to meet significant responsibilities at work, school, or home due to recurrent opioid use.
  6. Persistent opioid use despite enduring social or interpersonal challenges provoked by its effects.
  7. Abandoning or reducing important social, professional, or recreational activities due to opioid use.
  8. Regular use of opioids in physically dangerous circumstances.
  9. Continued opioid use despite being aware of persistent physical or psychological issues exacerbated by opioids.
  10. Development of tolerance, evidenced by either a need for markedly increased opioid quantities for the desired effect or reduced impact despite sustained usage.
  11. Withdrawal symptoms, including the recognizable withdrawal syndrome for opioids or the use of opioids or similar substances to alleviate or evade withdrawal effects.

A diagnosis of opioid use disorder is established when at least two of these symptoms present within a one-year timeframe. Data from NSDUH 2021 (National Survey on Drug Use and Health) indicate that 5.3 million U.S. adults reported using opioids in the previous year. SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) no longer report the number of individuals diagnosed with opioid use disorder in NSDUH. The last available data from NSDUH 2020 show that 2.6 million U.S. adults reported opioid addiction in 2020, 26% of those who used opioids in the same year.

Treatments for Opioid Addiction

Opioid addiction treatment involves a comprehensive approach that blends various therapeutic interventions and support systems to address the chronic and relapsing nature of addiction. These are some common options:

MAT (medication-assisted treatment)

This approach combines behavioral therapy with FDA-approved medications like methadone, buprenorphine, or naltrexone to alleviate withdrawal symptoms and reduce cravings, helping those fighting opioid addictions to achieve and maintain long-term recovery.

Behavioral therapies

CBT (cognitive-behavioral therapy), CM (contingency management), and MI (motivational interviewing) are forms of talk therapy that help people to identify and modify addictive behaviors, develop coping strategies, and build healthier life skills.

Support groups

Group therapy and support groups like NA (Narcotics Anonymous) or SMART Recovery provide a sense of community and understanding among individuals in recovery, offering peer support, encouragement, and a platform for sharing experiences.

Counseling and psychosocial support

Individual counseling and psychotherapy can address underlying psychological issues contributing to addiction, helping people develop superior coping mechanisms and strengthen emotional resilience.

Comprehensive rehab programs

Inpatient or outpatient rehab programs provide a structured environment for individuals to receive intensive treatment, medical care, and ongoing support to streamline the recovery process.

Holistic therapies

Complementary approaches like yoga, meditation, art therapy, and mindfulness practices can complement traditional treatments, promoting overall well-being and aiding in stress management and emotional regulation.

By integrating these treatments, individuals struggling with opioid addiction can access comprehensive support and resources to foster lasting recovery and improve their overall quality of life. What can you do if you need help right away?

An image of a woman using addiction hotline's to find opioid addiction treatment

Call Addiction Hotline to Get Help for Opioid Addiction

If you or a loved one is experiencing issues with opioid painkillers, heroin, or fentanyl, call our addiction hotline to get on-the-spot assistance.

Opioid overdose can be life-threatening and should be treated as a medical emergency, so call 911 immediately if someone that you know appears to be overdosing on any type of opioid.

Like all addictions, opioid use disorder is treatable. Call 855-701-0479 if you need help engaging with appropriate substance abuse treatment in California.

Want to learn more?

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Compassionate Care for Substance Abuse Treatment

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