Symptoms of Opioid Addiction

Learn the signs and symptoms of opioid addiction - behavioral, physical, and psychological - to help yourself or a loved one with opioid addiction.

Symptoms of opioid addiction can be the keys to getting help for yourself or your loved one. Opioid addiction can be fatal when left unchecked. Unfortunately, opioid addiction can be tricky to spot, so knowing what to watch for is important. While technically there’s a difference between symptoms and signs—simply put, symptoms are felt while signs are seen—here they’re combined as opiate addiction symptoms and signs.

First and foremost, symptoms of opioid addiction begin with misuse or abuse. Both misuse and abuse involve the same behavior: using a drug for pain relief and the high that comes from taking it. Once someone develops opioid dependence and tolerance, he needs more and more of the drug, and he needs to keep it in his system consistently to avoid unpleasant opioids withdrawal symptoms. This is when the misuse or abuse begins, and the person uses too much, taking more prescription pain pills than prescribed or buying an increasing amount of an illicit street drug like heroin.

The difference between misuse and abuse is the intent. In misuse, the person is using prescription painkillers incorrectly, taking higher doses than prescribed and doing it more frequently than she was instructed by her doctor. She does this because she is craving the pain relief she needs as well as the high that comes with it. In abuse, someone purposely seeks either pain pills that aren’t prescribed to her (from people she knows or from a dealer on the streets) or heroin specifically to get high.

Misuse or abuse is where addiction begins and is the first sign to watch for when determining whether you or someone you care about is addicted to opioids. Other drug-related behaviors provide signs of abuse, too.

Symptoms of Opioid Addiction: Drug-Focused Behavior

When someone is addicted to opioids, they become the focal point of his life. He needs these drugs, and his efforts are focused on obtaining them, at all costs. Some examples of this addictive behavior include:

  • Obsessive thoughts about getting the next fix
  • Compulsive drug-seeking
  • Spending a lot of money to get opioids
  • Stealing money, things to sell, or breaking into homes to steal prescriptions
  • Selling belongings
  • Engaging in risky behavior, in addition to theft, to obtain opioids
  • Crushing prescription pills to make the effects stronger
  • Continued use despite negative consequences
  • Obtaining and using opioids becomes the main priority and focus
  • Lack of control over use

Signs and Symptoms of Addiction to Opioids: Other Behaviors

In addition to the drug-seeking behaviors that are a hallmark of addiction, someone addicted to opioids exhibits other telling behaviors as well, such as:

  • Secrecy about use of opioids
  • Increased isolation to hide drug use
  • Social isolation
  • Wearing clothing that hides track marks
  • Poor work performance
  • Poor school performance
  • Neglecting responsibilities
  • Letting relationships (family, friends) slide
  • Changing friends, sudden association with a different crowd
  • Neglect of personal hygiene
  • No longer caring about appearance

Physical Signs and Symptoms of Opiate Addiction:

Opioids affect the body. The more opioids someone takes, the more she feels it, and the easier others can spot it. Some of the physical signs and symptoms of opiate addiction are

  • Uncontrollable opioid cravings
  • Nausea/vomiting
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Headache
  • Runny nose
  • Red eyes
  • Eyes glazed over
  • Cough
  • Excessive energy
  • Insomnia
  • Poor health due in part to a suppressed immune system
  • Track marks on arms from needle use
  • Inflamed veins if using needles
  • Arms and legs feel heavy
  • Lethargy (no energy, not caring about anything other than opioids)

Psychological Signs and Symptoms of Addiction to Opioids

Opioids work in the brain to actually change the brain, which is why addiction is considered a disease of the brain. It makes sense, then, that people have psychological, mental health, symptoms of opioids addiction. Among these psychological signs:

  • Obsessive thoughts about opioids
  • Paranoia
  • Hallucinations
  • Confusion
  • Memory problems
  • Increased sensitivity to sounds
  • Strong emotions
  • Anxiety
  • Irritability
  • Mood Swings
  • Depression
  • Rapid speech
  • Personality changes

While there are many signs and symptoms of opioid addiction, they’re not all obvious. Many of these are difficult to spot or can be explained away as something else. If you recognize any of these in yourself or in a loved one, use the lists above to check for more. And if you suspect opioid addiction, seek help. Treatment and help for opioid addiction are available.

article references

APA Reference
Peterson, T. (2021, December 16). Symptoms of Opioid Addiction, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 23 from

Last Updated: December 30, 2021

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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