Opioid Abuse Causes and Effects

Sunrise Recovery Ranch provides opioid addiction treatment rooted in a science-based, research-supported clinical model to ensure a healthier, more satisfying life, without addiction.

Understanding Opioids

Learn about opioid addiction and substance abuse

Opioids are a classification of highly addictive substances that are abused by people of all ages. Examples of opioids include heroin and prescription pain medications such as Vicodin, Opana, and OxyContin. When ingested, these substances interact with a person’s central nervous system and alleviate or prevent pain sensations. Opioids can also elicit a high that makes users feel euphoric and detached from their surroundings. And while painkillers can offer relief from chronic conditions or alleviate discomfort after a medical procedure, they, like heroin, can cause an individual to slip into the dangerous practice of substance abuse, which can lead to dependence and an inability to stop using these dangerous drugs.

Opioid addiction is one of the most complex forms of chemical dependency. In many cases, attempting to discontinue one’s opioid abuse brings about painful withdrawal symptoms. These symptoms can prevent the person from ending his or her substance abuse without the help of others. Continuing to abuse opioids and failing to seek help can render an individual vulnerable to a host of negative consequences. However, for those who wish to free themselves from the chains of opioid addiction, treatment is available.


Opioid addiction statistics

It is estimated that between 26 and 36 million people worldwide abuse opioids. This finding was reported by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), which also estimates two million individuals meet the diagnostic criteria for opioid-related use disorders as established in the fifth edition of The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). Furthermore, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) has reported that 0.37 percent of adults suffer from opioid-related use disorders.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and risk factors for opioid addiction

There is much to consider when trying to understand why and how a person comes to abuse opioids. The following are the most commonly cited causes and risk factors for opioid abuse:

Genetic: Extensive research has concluded that a person’s genetics can have a powerful influence over whether or not he or she will abuse opioids such as heroin or prescription pain medications. Researchers have discovered that individuals with a familial history of opioid abuse and/or addiction are more susceptible to experimenting with, abusing, and becoming addicted to these types of substances. Additionally, certain heritable personality traits have been identified as influencing whether or not a person will abuse or become addicted to opioids.

Risk Factors:

  • Being surrounded by individuals who abuse opioids or other substances
  • Having easy access to heroin or prescription painkillers
  • Suffering from a medical condition that warrants receiving a prescription for opioid painkillers
  • Family or personal history of other types of substance abuse and addiction
  • Family history of opioid abuse and/or addiction
  • Possessing a novelty-seeking personality

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of opioid addiction

The telltale signs that a person is abusing opioids such as heroin or prescription pain medications may differ from one person to the next. The symptoms of opioid addiction can vary based on the type of opioid that an individual is abusing , the longevity of the addiction, and amount of the substance that is ingested. The following are signs and symptoms of opioid abuse that may or may not be observable in a person who is battling this form of chemical dependency:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Using opioids in situations that are hazardous
  • No longer fulfilling obligations at home or work
  • Slurred speech
  • Visiting multiple doctors in order to receive multiple painkiller prescriptions
  • Declined participation in pleasurable activities that are not drug-related
  • Compulsive use of opioids
  • Engaging in drug-related crimes
  • Social isolation

Physical symptoms:

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

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Inability to sustain attention or concentration
  • Cravings for continued opioid use
  • Suicidal ideation
  • Poor decision-making
  • Memory impairment

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Declined interest in things once enjoyed
  • Euphoria followed by apathy
  • Depressed mood


Effects of opioid addiction

The consequences of abusing opioids can be quite serious. The following effects can occur if a person remains addicted to opioids such as heroin or prescription pain medications:

  • Suicide attempts
  • Anoxia
  • Dry mouth and nose
  • Gastrointestinal difficulties
  • Impaired visual acuity
  • Occupational failure
  • Homelessness
  • Financial strife
  • Legal problems due to criminal behavior
  • Track marks on the skin
  • Increased risk for contracting infections like HIV/AIDS or hepatitis B or C
  • Relationship discord
  • Overdose

Co-Occurring Disorders

Opioid addiction and co-occurring disorders

It is not uncommon for an individual with opioid use disorder to also suffer from another mental disorder at the same time. The following diagnoses are among those frequently given to individuals battling opioid addictions, and require treatment as well when person seeks care to end his or her opioid abuse:

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

Withdrawal & Overdose

Effects of opioid withdrawal & overdose

Effects of opioid withdrawal: Should a person abuse opioids long-term and abruptly stop his or her use of these substances, withdrawal symptoms will emerge. These symptoms, which can be uncomfortable and sometimes painful, are often enough to keep a person using and trapped in the vicious cycle of opioid abuse. The following are among the various types of withdrawal symptoms that may be experienced by someone enduring opioid withdrawal:

  • Pupil dilation
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Uncontrollable flowing of tears
  • Fever
  • Diarrhea
  • Muscle aches
  • Excessive yawning
  • Insomnia
  • Dysphoric mood
  • Sweating

Effects of opioid overdose: The prolonged abuse of opioids can cause a person to develop a tolerance to the drug that he or she is consuming. Tolerance to a substance means that the person ultimately requires more, whether in greater amounts and/or on a more frequent basis, of the drug in order to achieve the desired high. When this occurs, the risk for overdose increases. An overdose happens when an individual takes more of a substance than his or her body can metabolize, and it can be fatal. It is important to be able to recognize the following signs of overdose and seek the assistance of emergency medical personal as soon as they become apparent:

  • Sudden sleepiness
  • Seizures
  • Dizziness
  • Shallow or labored breathing
  • Headache
  • Cold, clammy skin
  • Slurred speech
  • Extreme confusion

Thanks to Sunrise Recovery Ranch, my daughter was able to get the lasting recovery she deserved from her addiction and her co-occurring mental health disorder. I am super grateful!

– Michelle A.
Marks of Quality Care
These accreditations are an official recognition of our dedication to providing treatment that exceeds the standards and best practices of quality care.
  • American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM)
  • California Consortium of Addiction Programs and Professionals (CCAPP)
  • Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities (CARF)