Opiates Symptoms and Warning Signs

Opiates comprise a wide variety of legal and illegal drugs derived from the opium poppy plant that have a high potential for abuse and powerful addictive properties. The legal formulations are mostly used for pain management in certain medical conditions that cause moderate to severe pain. Despite this, using such drugs can lead to abuse and addiction – even via legitimate consumption.

Opioids is a broader term for referring to Opiates and other designer drugs synthesised from the opium poppy. This is why Opiates are also called ‘opioid painkillers’. These drugs induce feelings of pleasure and euphoria, which makes it hard for users to stop taking them. They are also common substances of abuse amongst recreational users who are looking to get ‘high’ or escape certain emotional problems. Despite the seeming psychological benefits of using Opiates, there are dangerous consequences of abusing any drug that falls within this class.

It’s important to understand the warning signs of opiate abuse and addiction in order take the required measures and save yourself from the imminent dangers. Treatment programmes are available that can help you overcome your addiction. Read on to learn these tell-tale signs. Also, if you’re worried that a loved one might be a victim of abuse and addiction, you can help them get treatment.

Types of Opiate Brands

Opioid is the modern term for a wider variety of drugs in the Opiates class and those that are fully or partly synthesised from Opiates. Opioids can be divided into three main categories:

Natural Opiates: these are chemical compounds that are naturally found in the opium poppy plant. Pure Opiates include thebaine, codeine, and morphine.

Manmade/semi-synthetic opioids: these are drugs produced from natural Opiates in laboratories. They include Hydromorphone (Exalgo, Dilaudid), Hydrocodone (Vicodin, Norco, Lortab, Lorcet), and Oxycodone (OxyContin).

Fully synthetic opioids: these types of opioids are completely manmade. They include Methadone (Methadose, Dolophine), Fentanyl (Sublimaze, Duragesic, Lazanda, Fentora, Actiq), tramadol, pethidine, dextropropoxyphene, and levorphanol.

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How do Opiates affect the body?

Opioids interact with opioid receptors in the brain, Central Nervous System and other parts of the body to reduce pain sensations by inhibiting neurons that transport pain signals. However, they are psychoactive substances in the sense that their actions cause a surge in the production of certain neurotransmitters, responsible for regulating pleasurable feelings in the brain. These neurotransmitters include norepinephrine and dopamine.

Dopamine is associated with the brain’s reward system and is mostly responsible for feelings of pleasure and euphoria. When the presence of this chemical is prominent, there’s a rush of such feelings. This is why people who take these drugs for any reason are tempted to use them again.

Repeated use of Opiates usually results in tolerance. This is when your body refuses to respond to your initial dose, causing you to increase your intake in order to experience the original effects of the opiate you’re consuming. The more you take the drug, the more your brain and body begins to see its presence as the new norm.

When the brain becomes used to the heightened levels of dopamine as a result of long-term use, it adjusts its mode of operation to favour this state of affairs and relies on the opiate you’re taking for this continued effect. This will lead to the occurrence of withdrawal symptoms when you reduce intake of the drug or cease use altogether.

Why do Opiates have the potential for abuse?

The abuse potential for any opiate is marked, due to the nature of its actions. If you’re using any opiate for pain management, it’s easy to crave its benefits over a long period. This is the main reason they are abused by legitimate users.

Tolerance can also occur when you take the drug under prescription. Your pain may not be effectively managed as it was when you started taking the drug, which could lead you to consume more in order to achieve the desired effects.

For recreational users, Opiates are short-cut to feel ‘high’ and experience euphoric effects. As they don’t take the drugs according to medical advice, Opiates are usually misused, which is why recreational users fall into the cycle of addiction.

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Recognising the Common Warning Signs of Opiates Abuse

When you consume Opiates to the point of abuse, you’ll experience certain physical and psychological effects. These symptoms could easily be passed off as common side effects when they occur, but it’s important to consult your doctor when you notice them, especially if you’re undertaking a prescription regimen. If you’re taking the drug recreationally, it’s crucial to cease use and seek help in order to escape the dangers of long-term abuse.

Some of the warning signs of opiate abuse include:

A common giveaway to Opiates abuse (that’s hard to disguise) is pinpoint or pinprick pupils, which occurs when your irises relax. If you experience any of the above symptoms, endeavour to consult your physician.

  • Marked drowsiness/sedation
  • Constricted pupil
  •  Slowed breathing
  • Constipation
  • Intermittent loss of consciousness or sudden sleep
  • Dramatic mood swings
  • Tolerance
  • Dependence

The Dangers of Opiates Abuse

Abusing drugs in the Opiates class can bring dangerous implications. They include: a weakened immune system; respiratory depression; gastrointestinal issues (which comprise moderate to severe constipation and bowel perforation); and brain damage.

Continued abuse can also lead to addiction and its related dangers. You could become an entirely different person and suffer emotional, financial and employment problems because of your abuse. You might also alienate friends and suffer failed relationships further down the line. There’s even the possibility of losing your life, as Opiates abuse causes a staggering number of deaths year on year.

Recognising an Opiate Addiction

Those that are addicted to Opiates are often ignorant of their addiction. Coming to terms with an addiction can be difficult, because the euphoric ‘highs’ you enjoy at this point can easily make you overlook the imminent dangers you’re about to face. However, it’s important to recognise that you’re in danger and quit using opiates immediately.

A common occurrence that signifies addiction is the onset of withdrawal when you choose to quit using Opiates, refrain from taking the drug for a while, or drastically reduce your dosage. These symptoms include pains in many areas of the body (especially the muscles), gastrointestinal problems, mood swings, depression, anxiety, fast heart rate, and insomnia, amongst others.

If you have a loved one who has been using these drugs and are worried they may have become addicted, there are tell-tale signs to look out for. These will be mostly behavioural, as they will try to hide their physical symptoms as much as possible. Signs of Opiate addiction include:

  • Finding empty refill bottles of Opiates
  • Feeling disconnected from social functions and events
  • ‘Doctor shopping’ for multiple prescriptions
  • Lack of interest in formerly enjoyed engagements
  • Intermittent mood swings
  • Choosing not to go anywhere without Opiates
  • Taking drastic measures to source the drug, including stealing, borrowing, and gambling

Opiates addiction and the brain

Naturally, the brain always wants a repeat of enjoyable activities that increases the rush of dopamine, such as eating or having sex. When Opiates are present, they cause you to crave them, because they induce the production of dopamine in cascading quantities. When you yield to this urge and continue to abuse the drug over time, your brain will grow dependent and cause you to take it habitually and compulsively.

Learn the Short-Term Side Effects of Opiates Abuse

The immediate side effects of abusing Opiates include:

  • Light-headedness
  • Hallucinations
  • Weight loss
  • Blurred vision
  • Shallow and slowed breathing
  • Flushed, itchy skin
  • Vomiting
  • Nausea

Learn the Long-term Side Effects of Opiates Abuse

When you abuse Opiates in the long-term, you’ll experience more severe health issues. These include:

  • Emotional instability
  • Severe constipation
  • Insomnia
  • Depression
  • Abdominal bloating and distention
  • Brain damage
  • Liver damage
  • Death
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Intervention for Opiates Addiction

People suffering from drug abuse – especially involving Opiates – mostly don’t realise the implications of their addiction until it’s too late. They’re also mostly oblivious to the fact that their drug abuse is adversely impacting the lives of those around them. In the case where they know about their addiction, they live in denial.

You must take responsibility and draw attention to their risky behaviours once you spot the signs of addiction. You can achieve this via an intervention that comprises the addict’s close friends and family. This way, they will realise that their addiction has caused problems and understand the impact of their actions.

If you don’t know how to organise an intervention, professional interventionists are available who can help you set up this event, based on the situation of the addict and those around them. It’s also important that you make arrangements for help (treatment and rehab) when your loved one adheres to your demands and chooses to address their Opiate abuse and addiction.

Detox and Withdrawal from Opiates

To break free from Opiates addiction and rebalance your life without the drug, your body will attempt to purge all drug remnants from your system via a process known as detoxification. ‘Detox’ commences after you’ve abstained (for a considerable period) from the opiate to which you’ve been addicted. As your body undergoes detox, a series of withdrawal symptoms will surface as a way if reacting to Opiates leaving your body. These symptoms could discourage you from seeing the detox process through to the end, as they can often be excruciating.

This is why a medical detox is advised, during which your withdrawal symptoms will be managed and made more bearable as your body expels the drug.

Treatment and Next Steps

Treatment involves a holistic rehab programme, aimed at reconditioning you to a life without Opiates via behavioural therapies that will get to the root of any related psychological and physical issues. These include addressing the reasons you started using Opiates, tackling any issues that may have resulted from your Opiates abuse and addiction, as well as teaching you techniques that will help you stay away from these drugs.


What are the types of treatment?

There are different types of treatment programmes that fit different types of situations. You could undergo inpatient or outpatient programme, based on your particular situation. With the former, you’ll receive treatment as a residential patient, while outpatient treatment involves being treated during scheduled appointments with your doctors and therapists.

What is the duration of treatment?

The duration of treatment will rely on your state of abuse and addiction. You’ll ideally stay longer in rehab if you’ve chronically abused Opiates over a long period. Treatment can last from 30 to 90 days. Research has found that regardless of your condition, the longer you stay in rehab, the better your chances of attaining full recovery. This is why clinicians always recommend the 90 day rehab programme.

Is treatment effective?

Yes. Treatment for Opiates addiction and abuse can help you successfully overcome your issues and set you on the path to a drug-free life. This is because your treatment plan will be based on the particular opiate you’ve abused and become addicted to, as well as your level of abuse and general condition.

Should I choose inpatient or outpatient treatment?

Choosing a treatment programme should be undertaken after consulting your doctor and undergoing a thorough evaluation. You should let your state of addiction primarily dictate the kind of treatment method you undergo. If you’ve chronically abused any kind of opiate and find yourself severely dependent, this may prevent you from choosing an inpatient programme. Subsequently, your doctor could opt to treat you remotely if your addiction is considered to be mild. However, if you’re struggling with chronic addiction, endeavour to put time aside for a holistic treatment programme in order to secure a safe and successful recovery.

What is the cost of treatment?

Treatment costs differ for different situations. Factors that combine to influence the cost of treatment include: the type of treatment you undertake, the duration of treatment, and the treatment centre where you’re treated. The cost of treatment might be covered by your insurance provider, though this is dependent on your policy and the treatment facility in question. If you don’t have insurance cover, you can pay with a credit or debit card, cash, or even public funding, as most centres accept these means of payment.

For further clarification, contact your rehab centre or an addiction helpline to receive relevant guidance on accepted payment methods.

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