Causes and Effects of Opioid Addiction

The signs, symptoms, and effects of opioid addiction can be different for every person impacted. Learning about opioids is one of the first steps towards getting better.

Understanding Opioid Addiction

Learn about opioid addiction and substance abuse

Opioids are a group of substances that include heroin and prescription painkillers such as morphine, OxyContin, Vicodin, fentanyl, and others. Opioids, which are nervous system depressants, work to eliminate an individual’s ability to feel pain, while also bringing on feelings of euphoria and relaxation. Due to the pleasurable effects that opioids produce, many individuals find themselves stuck in a cycle of problematic use of these substances. While prescription opioids can provide extreme relief for those who possess a medical purpose for them, they can also cause exceptional problems if they are consumed in a manner that is contrary to their prescribed guidelines. As individuals continue to abuse opioids, it becomes more likely that they will begin to experience problems in all areas of their lives. The longer that the abuse of opioids lasts, the more likely these individuals become to developing an addiction to these substances. As soon as this an opioids addiction has developed, it can be highly challenging to overcome without professional treatment.

Statistics

Opioid addiction statistics

The American Psychological Association (APA) reports that opioid use disorder impacts 0.37% of the population. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) reports that between 26 and 36 million individuals abuse opioids worldwide. In the United States, more than two million people battle with the abuse of opioid-based prescription medications.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and risk factors for opioid addiction

The causes and risk factors that have been linked to the onset of opioid use disorder are found in the following:

Genetic: A great deal of research supports the notion that a person can be genetic predisposed to battling an addiction to opioids. If a person possess a family history of opioid abuse and/or addiction, that individual is more likely to struggle with similar challenges.  

Environmental: Should an individual be exposed to certain environments, it is likely that that person will experiment with and develop an addiction to opioids. Those who are able to acquire opioids with ease are like to abuse them. Additionally, those who have a person history of experiencing trauma or other adverse events also have a greater chance of developing an addiction to opioids.

Risk Factors:

  • Having a novelty-seeking personality
  • Being in the company of other individuals who abuse opioids or other types of substances
  • Possessing an impulsive temperament
  • Family history of substance abuse and addiction
  • Personal history of abusing other types of substances

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of opioid addiction

The signs and symptoms that might show that someone is abusing opioids will vary from one individual to another, but can include the following symptoms:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Slurred speech
  • Withdrawing from family and friends
  • No longer engaging in activities that were once enjoyable
  • Continuing to abuse opioids despite having the desire to stop
  • Using opioids in situations that are physically hazardous, such as while driving
  • No longer adhering to responsibilities in favor of using opioids
  • Declined occupational performance
  • Engaging in drug-related crimes

Physical symptoms:

  • Insomnia
  • Pupillary constriction
  • Drowsiness
  • Psychomotor agitation and retardation

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Cravings
  • Memory impairment
  • Impaired judgment
  • Concentration and attention difficulties
  • Suicidal ideation

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Depression
  • Euphoria followed by apathy
  • No longer finding interest in things that one once enjoyed

Effects

Effects of opioid addiction

If an individual remains trapped in a pattern of ongoing opioid abuse, he or she is likely to experience any number of dangerous effects. Some examples of these effects can include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Heart attack
  • Onset of new, or worsening of current, mental illness symptoms
  • Erectile dysfunction in men
  • Seizures
  • Stroke
  • Cognitive impairment
  • Disturbances of reproductive functioning in women
  • Destroyed friendships
  • Loss of child custody
  • Demise of marriages or partnerships
  • Financial strife
  • Homelessness
  • Legal problems due to engaging in criminal behavior, including incarceration
  • Occupational failure
  • Overdose

Co-Occurring Disorders

Opioid addiction and co-occurring disorders

It is not uncommon for those who are battling an opioid addiction to struggle with symptoms of other forms of mental health concerns at the same time. Examples of the many disorders that have been known to occur alongside of opioid use disorder include:

  • Alcohol use disorder
  • Other substance use disorders
  • Major depressive disorder
  • Stimulant use disorder
  • Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Persistent depressive disorder

Effects of Withdrawal and Overdose

Effects of opioid withdrawal and overdose

Effects of opioid withdrawal: When an individual stops his or her opioid use, he or she is vulnerable to experiencing a period of withdrawal as his or her body works to adjust to its previous state. The process of withdrawal can be highly uncomfortable and can include the following symptoms:

  • Vomiting
  • Excessive sweating
  • Dysphoric mood (feeling in a constant state of unease)
  • Fever
  • Nausea
  • Yawning
  • Pupil dilation
  • Insomnia
  • Muscle aching

Effects of opioid overdose: When an individual consumes more of an opioid than his or her body can safely process, he or she is at risk for suffering an overdose. Overdosing on any substance can be very dangerous, and an opioid overdose is no different. Therefore, it is critical that emergency medical attention is sought if an individual shows any of the following symptoms:

  • Labored or shallow breathing
  • Severe dizziness
  • Cold, clammy skin
  • Seizures
  • Extreme confusion
  • Slurred speech

I loved the staff! Most of the techs and nurses were wonderful. The doctors were great, too. I would choose it again if I had to go back.

– Former Patient