Signs and Symptoms of Opiate Use, Abuse, Addiction & Facts

opiate addiction physicians

Treatment Might Not Be What You Expect

What Are Opiates? How are they ingested or used?

Opiates are a group of drugs that can be legally prescribed for treating pain. Derived from opium, the drugs originate in the same plant (the poppy) which is used to make heroin. The term opiate is sometimes used interchangeably with opioids and narcotics. ”Opiate” is most often used to refer to close relatives of opium – drugs such as codeine, morphine and heroin that originate from the poppy. It is sometimes also used to describe synthetic opiates such as Oxycontin.

Both synthetic opiates and regular opiates are highly addictive substances. They are classified dangerous narcotics by the government.

Common names for opiates that are both prescribed and abused:

  • Oxycontin, Percocet (oxycodone)
  • Vicodin, Hycodan (hydrocodone)
  • Duragesic (fentanyl)
  • Codeine
  • MS Contin Kadian (morphine)
  • Dilaudid (hydromorphone)

Street names for various opiates:

  • China girl
  • China white
  • Dance fever
  • Friend (fentanyl)
  • Goodfella
  • Miss Emma (morphine)
  • M (morphine)
  • Vikes (hydrocodone)
  • Viko (hydrocodone)
  • Norco (hydrocodone)
  • Hydro (hydrocodone)
  • Schoolboy (codeine)
  • Purple Drank (with cough syrup that containscodeine)
  • T-three’s (Tylenol #3 with codeine
  • Oxys or Oxies (oxycodone)
  • OxyContin (oxycodone)
  • Oxycet (oxycodone)
  • Junk (heroin)
  • H (heroin)
  • Horse (heroin)
  • Black Tar (heroin)


What Are the Symptoms of Opiate Use or Abuse?

Opiates are a highly addictive drug as a result of the euphoria (often described as a wonderful “sense of well-being” that they give the user. Many people addicted to opiates started out with a legitimate medical reason to take the painkiller. Unfortunately, many people who use opiates develop a tolerance and become physically dependent on the drug. They need more of it to get the same effects and euphoria.

A person who is abusing opiates may become withdrawn and less talkative. While they are on the drug, they may seem “out of it” or even incoherent. A person who is high on an opiate may get sick (vomit) or have trouble maintaining their balance. They may “nod off” in the middle of doing a task.

What Are the Long-Term Effects and Dangers of Opiate Use?

When opiates are legitimately used for treating pain, they are typically used on a short-term basis. Even when used for pain relief, many people develop tolerance to the drug, meaning they need a higher dose to get the same pain relief.

As tolerance to the effects of opiates occurs, the opiate users run the risk of overdose. This occurs while trying to get high and their bodies cannot handle the dosage. Many opiate abusers die from cardiac or respiratory arrest. Depressed respiration from the opiates affects the amount of oxygen that reaches the brain. This condition, called a hypoxia, can have short- and long-term psychological and neurological effects. It can leave opiate users in a coma and cause permanent brain damage.

Studies have also shown that using heroin — a relative of prescription opiates — causes deterioration of the brain’s white matter. This can affect decision-making abilities, the ability to regulate behavior, and the user’s responses to stressful situations. This explains, in part, why addiction and dependence can be so insidious to the user.

Signs and Symptoms of Opiate Dependency/Addiction

The top hazard of opiate use is developing a full-blown addiction to the drug. Addiction to opiates is not always apparent, but its effects can be gripping to the user and devastating to their family and friends. A person who is addicted to opiates may keep stashes of pills around the house. They may appear to ration pills. They will participate in drug-seeking behaviors such as stealing or doctor shopping. They may even get in trouble with the law while trying to support their habit. They may get sick, angry, or filled with anxiety when they are unable to obtain the drug.

An opiate addict may look pale and malnourished. They may look sickly or lose dramatic weight as they use more and more of their drug of choice. They may no longer take care of themselves and appear generally disheveled, suffer from skin problems and infections, and seem to be in poor health with no obvious medical problem.

Opiate users experience intense withdrawal symptoms when they try to quit using. Although, in most cases, withdrawal is not life threatening, it’s advised that if you want to detox from opiates you do so with the supervision of a medical professional. Some underlying health conditions may be exacerbated by withdrawal, and that can make the process more dangerous as well as miserable. A qualified professional will be able to prescribe medications that help alleviate some of the more intense symptoms or help you taper from the drug on a schedule.

Opiate withdrawal symptoms can last anywhere from one week to one month. Many of the emotional symptoms of withdrawal, such as a lack of energy, anxiety, depression and insomnia may last a few months.

The Transition to Heroin Which Has Plagued the United States

Increasingly, the painful withdrawals will lead the user to buy a street version of the drug out of desperation. If the person who is becoming physically addicted to the opiates can’t obtain more of the medication, or it is prohibitively expensive (often more than $50 per pill), the $5-10 price tag of heroin might become too tempting to avoid.

This phenomenon has become incredibly widespread in the United States, and particularly has shocked families in middle and upper class neighborhoods. Often the first warning the family ever receives is the death of their loved one. For this reason, the prescription drug epidemic is considered the nations #1 health crisis.

Also,  for obvious reasons, opiate abuse should be taken very seriously, not even one more day of condoning the use should be allowed if someone is abusing opiates.

Getting Help for an Opiate Problem

If you think you, or somebody you love, has a problem with their opiate use, there are many treatment options that are available for the user who wants help. Sometimes medication can be prescribed to ease side effects or reduce cravings for the drug. Most people find that they benefit from a supervised detox followed by a treatment program. Not sure what will be right for you? Worried that you can’t find a program that meets your needs? We can help. The phone call is 100% free and confidential.