Opioid Addiction: Symptoms, Risks, and Impact

Opioid Addiction: Symptoms, Risks, and Impact

Opioid Drugs – Photo by Isaac Quesada on Unsplash

  Written by: Sabrina Sourjah
Date Updated: 4/22/2021
Reviewed by: Patrick D. Randolph, Ph.D.

Opioid addiction is a persistent crisis — also known as the opioid epidemic.

In 2017, the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) declared a public health emergency due to this opioid crisis.

10.1 million people misused prescription opioids in 2019, and 1.6 million people experienced an opioid use disorder in the same year. In the 12 months ending June 2020, there were 14,480 deaths caused by overdosing on heroin, and 48,006 deaths were attributable to overdosing on synthetic opioids, excluding methadone.

Opioid Definition

Opioids are a class of drugs that interact with opioid receptors in the human body and brain. Certain pain relievers that fall into the opioid category are safe if taken in the right quantity when required.

But these pain medications can be misused because they cause euphoria in addition to relieving the pain. Under opioid use disorder, individuals may take more painkillers than prescribed by doctors or even take medications with no legal prescriptions.

Opioid Drugs List

The following drugs are considered opioids:

  • Illegal drugs like heroin
  • Synthetic opioid types like fentanyl
  • Pain relievers purchased with prescriptions like oxycodone, hydrocodone, codeine, and morphine

Opioid Addiction Symptoms

Common signs of opioid dependence include the inability to control opioid use, drowsiness, uncontrollable cravings, changing sleep habits, lack of personal hygiene, isolation, stealing from loved ones, unexpected weight loss, decrease in libido, frequent flu symptoms, and financial difficulties.

Opioid Addiction Risk Factors

Your risk for opioid misuse increases based on the following factors:

  • Unemployment and poverty
  • Family history of substance abuse
  • Young age
  • History of substance usage
  • Frequent contact with high-risk individuals
  • Excessive risk-taking behaviors
  • Excessive tobacco usage
  • Severe depression or anxiety
  • Chronic stress conditions
  • Previous drug or alcohol rehabilitation
  • History of criminal activity

Impact of Opioid Addiction

1. Overall Health

As an individual continues to use opioids, the body slows down the production of endorphins — the feel-good hormone. This means that the tolerance for the drug increases, finally resulting in an opioid overdose.

Opioid abuse can cause minor irritations like nausea, vomiting, choking, and slower breathing. Significant health impacts include weakened immunity and increased risk of HIV and hepatitis. Studies have also confirmed a connection between opioid dependence and coma, gastrointestinal effects, respiratory system impacts, cardiovascular complications, and impacts on the central nervous system.

2. Surgery Outcomes

With the overuse of opioids, the probability of having collapsed veins or clogged blood vessels increases. This can have an adverse effect on surgeries and the recovery period.

Research suggests a “rising complication among both opioid-naive patients and those taking opioids preoperatively” due to usage of opioids for postoperative pain management. Healthcare professionals pay extra attention to monitor recovering patients and discontinue opioids in a timely manner.

3. Mental Health

Those with mood and anxiety disorders are three times more likely to misuse opioids when compared with those without mental illnesses.

The reverse has also been proven for depression. Researchers have found out that 10% of people who were prescribed opioids developed depression after a month of taking drugs. Those abusing opioids tend to have hallucinations as well, and this can lead to psychosis episodes.

4. Longevity

According to the American Addiction Centers, when one uses heroin just once a day, lifespan reduction is about 30 years. Higher the number of daily uses, the higher the loss of lifespan. For example, when heroin is used five times a day, 50.9 years can be lost from one’s life.

5. Life Satisfaction

Studies have found “significantly higher rates of dissatisfaction with life among opioid-dependent people in treatment when compared to members of the general population.” This is not surprising given the adverse impact on overall health and mental health.


Opioid withdrawal symptoms may occur when opioid treatment is in progress. However, treatment is essential if you’re addicted to opioids. Please consult your physician soon.