Opioid Addiction: Signs, Symptoms, and Treatment

Most people who become addicted [to opioids] like me do so after a prescription for a painkiller following a medical procedure. Once the phenomenon of craving sets in, it is often too late ~Jamie Lee Curtis

Opioids are a classification of drugs often referred to as opiates or narcotics.1 Doctors prescribe opioids for their painkilling properties. However, at certain doses, opioid use may also produce a euphoric high.2 Opioids have addictive properties, and opioid users are at a higher risk of developing an addiction.3 If you or a loved one is struggling with opioid use disorder (OUD), you must know the signs and symptoms of opioid addiction to get the opioid addiction treatment you—or your loved one—need.

Signs and Symptoms of Opioid Addiction

Opioids are highly addictive3—prescribed or illicit—with an increased potential for misuse and an increased risk of developing an addiction known as Substance Use Disorder (SUD).1 

The causes of opioid addictions are unknown. Yet researchers are looking to understand better the risk factors associated with OUD. 

Several types of opioids exist, both illicit and prescription. The most common opioid drugs4 include:

  • Methadone
  • Codeine
  • Morphine
  • Heroin
  • Hydromorphone (Dilaudid)
  • Oxycodone (OxyContin, Percocet)
  • Hydrocodone (Vicodin, Norco)
  • Fentanyl (Actiq, Duragesic, Sublimaze)

Opioids activate the reward system in your brain and are key to OUD.1

struggling with opioid addiction
While researchers continually unlock OUD’s causal and environmental factors, those struggling with opioid addiction display obvious physical and behavioral signs of misusing opioids.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) classifies OUD—a form of substance use disorder (SUD)—by the following signs and symptoms:5,6

  • Taking opioids in larger amounts or for longer than intended
  • Unable to stop or reduce usage
  • Spending excess time obtaining, using, or recovering from using opioids
  • Intense cravings and strong urges to use opioids
  • Using even though it causes issues in your relationships
  • Keeps you from fulfilling your obligations
  • Increased tolerance
  • Developing withdrawal symptoms

Short-term signs and symptoms  

  • Confusion
  • Euphoria
  • Drowsiness
  • Constipation
  • Nausea
  • Slowed breathing
  • Hypoxia (can also occur as a long-term symptom)

Long-term signs and symptoms  

  • Neurological changes 
  • Behavioral changes and mood swings
  • Psychological effects
  • Physical effects (twitching, ticks)
  • Memory issues
  • Being emotionally detached
  • Coma 
  • Permanent brain damage
  • Death
Signs of Opioid Addiction
Signs of Opioid Addiction

Risk Factors for Opioid Addiction

Researchers believe a combination of environmental, genetic, and developmental factors influence your risks for opioid addiction. The more risk factors you have, the greater the likelihood that taking opioids could lead to a SUD.5,7

Opioid addiction
Opioid addiction is a chronic disease for which there is no cure. Furthermore, no one factor can predict if you will become addicted to opioids or any other substances. 7 

Risk factors include the following:6,7,8

  • Biology
  • Environment
  • Development
  • Chronic pain
  • Lack of knowledge or social support
  • Access or previous exposure
  • Personal or family history of addiction
  • Physical trauma or stress
  • Unresolved emotional or physical abuse
  • Age of initial use

Remember, risk factors are just that—they may increase the likelihood of becoming addicted, but they don’t mean someone is prone to addiction. While there is no cure, opioid addiction is treatable.7

How to Treat Opioid Addiction   

Effective treatment for opioid addiction begins with detox. For some Palm Springs drug rehab patients, a safe medical detox is the only way to ensure that withdrawal symptoms don’t become deadly.9

Behavioral therapies, medication-assisted therapy (MAT), counseling, and aftercare are necessary to treat OUD successfully. Residential, various levels of outpatient and hospital-based programs are available.10


Doctors prescribe OUD patients one of three types of medications which include:11,12

  • Methadone (Dolophine, Methadose)
  • Buprenorphine (Subutex, Suboxone, Sublocade, Probuphine)
  • Naltrexone (Vivitrol®)

Each of these medications targets the brain the same way that morphine and heroin do, and methadone and buprenorphine specifically work to suppress your withdrawal symptoms and eliminate your cravings for opioids.

Naltrexone, on the other hand, works by blocking the opioid’s effects on your brain’s receptors. Doctors typically prescribe this medication for patients who have already been through detox.11

Each of these medications reduces drug-seeking behaviors and related criminal activity. They will also prepare you mentally for behavioral treatment.

Opioid addiction treatment
Studies have found that patients who have begun treatment can benefit from a combination of buprenorphine and a formulation of extended-release naltrexone are extremely effective in opioid addiction treatment.11

Aftercare and Ongoing Support    

Ongoing support and aftercare are essential for long-term recovery from opioid addiction. Care from a certified opioid treatment program increases your chances of staying clean and avoiding relapse.12

After detox, you and your treatment specialist can create a personalized plan involving a step-down approach to treatment. You may opt to join a residential program or one of the various outpatient treatment plans available.  Support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), Narcotics Anonymous (NA), and sober living facilities can increase your chances of success in avoiding relapse and maintaining long-term sobriety.

Comparison of relapse rates

Start the Road to Opioid Recovery

Recovery from opioid addiction is possible with the support of our treatment specialists. We work with you to develop a personalized treatment plan that meets your needs. Get the compassionate care you need to begin your journey to find long-term recovery. We’ll be right by your side every step of the way.

Contact us today to speak to a treatment support specialist for more information about opioid addiction and how to begin your recovery journey.

about opioid addiction treatment

Frequently Asked Questions About Opioid Addiction

You may have questions if you or a loved one struggles with OUD. Here are some of the most frequently asked regarding opioid addiction:

What are opioids? 

Physicians have used opioid medications to treat pain, cough, or even diarrhea, and they are available in capsules, tablets, skin patches, injectables, oral liquids, and suppositories. Along with prescription opioids, there are also illicit opioids available. Illicit opioids are often ingested in powdered or chunky form ranging from white to brown or black in color.1

Illicit opioids
Illicit opioids are often ingested in powdered or chunky form ranging from white to brown or black in color.

What is the difference between opiates and opioids?

Opioid is a broad term when describing any substance under that drug classification. It can be either synthetic (man-made) or naturally produced in the environment. Poppy seeds are an example of an opiate, while fentanyl is an opioid because it does not exist in nature on its own.1,2,6

What are the physical signs of opioid addiction?

The physical signs of opioid addiction include drowsiness, euphoria, confusion, and nausea. It can also cause your breathing to become slow. If you take opioids with alcohol, you may experience a dangerously slow heart rate. Long-term use could result in neurological and behavioral changes and could result in permanent brain damage.5,6

Are there support groups for opioid addiction?

Yes. You can receive addiction care treatment through California Behavioral Health and also attend group meetings, such as:

  • AA
  • NA
  • Celebrate Recovery
  • Other group therapies

How long is rehab for opioid addiction?

Most rehab facilities offer 30-, 60-, or 90-day programs focused on the early stages of rehabilitation and recovery. Rehab usually means you have chosen to stay at a residential treatment facility, although outpatient rehab is available.

Is in-patient treatment for opioid addiction available near me?

Yes! At California Behavioral Health, our addiction and mental health treatment facility takes a holistic approach to your recovery journey, offering you the personalized care you need for long-term sobriety.

Our highly experienced staff understands the science behind behavioral health and addiction treatment.


1. Drug Enforcement Administration. (2017). Drugs of abuse: A DEA resource guide.

2. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2020). Misuse of prescription drugs research report.

3. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2021, June). Prescription opioids drug facts.

4. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2020). Commonly used drugs charts.

5. American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (Fifth ed.)

6. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018). Media guide.

7. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018). DrugFacts: Understanding drug use and addiction.

8. Yale Medicine. (2022, October). Opioid Use Disorder: Fact Sheet.

9. Mayo Clinic. (2021, May). Tapering off opioids: When and how.

10. U.S. National Library of Medicine. (2021). Opioid misuse and addiction.

11. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2019). DrugFacts: Treatment approaches for drug addiction.

12. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2021). Medication-assisted treatment (MAT).


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