5 Opioid Use Disorder Symptoms, and How to Spot Them

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According to the CDC, there were 81,000 overdose deaths recorded during the first year of the Covid-19 pandemic. That means 81,000 lives came to an end as a result of opioid addiction. How many of those tragic deaths could we have prevented if friends and family knew how to identify common opioid use disorder symptoms?

Knowledge is the first step toward stopping tragedy in its tracks. When you can identify the signs of repeated opioid use in your loved ones, you can prevent a drug overdose and save a life. 

Sometimes, knowing the signs can also help you save yourself. If you have concerns about your own opioid use, now is the time to learn the signs and symptoms of an addiction disorder. Help is out there for those who recognize that they need it. 

Below, you’ll find five common symptoms of opioid use disorder. Keep reading to become familiar with these symptoms so you can spot them in your loved ones – or even in yourself. When you are proactive, you have the power to save a life. 

1. Withdrawal Symptoms

Opioids are expensive, and a preoccupation with acquiring medication can consume a person’s life. Often, a drug user desperately wants to taper off or quit to improve their quality of life. They may attempt to detox at home, leading to opioid withdrawal and accompanying symptoms. 

Both mental and physical symptoms are involved in opioid withdrawal. In the first few hours or days, the symptoms tend to be physical. These can resemble the flu or other illness, and tend to include the following:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea 
  • Muscle pain
  • Fatigue
  • Fever
  • Insomnia

After the first few days of detox, psychological symptoms begin to set in. It is at this point that many individuals succumb and resume using opioids. Common mental symptoms include:

  • Mood swings
  • Depression
  • Severe anxiety
  • Hyperfixations 

All of these symptoms can appear even if the individual has merely decreased their usage. If you notice that they are frequently ill or are experiencing rapid shifts in mood or affect, they may be struggling with addiction. 

2. Signs of Drug Toxicity 

In high doses, opioids become toxic substances. The body is not built to handle opioids in high quantities. As an individual becomes dependent, the amount of medication they take can become physically dangerous. 

Often, the signs of drug toxicity are also the first signs of an overdose. Addiction professionals call the signs that you should look for the “overdose triad.” Symptoms include:

  • Pupillary Miosis, or “pinpoint pupils”
  • Respiratory depression, or trouble breathing
  • Altered mental state, or confusion/delirium

Additionally, you might notice nausea, vomiting, or extreme sleepiness. In this situation, you will want to seek help immediately. These symptoms can quickly escalate and become deadly.  

3. Changes in Behavior

Individuals experiencing any type of substance abuse disorder will undergo overall changes in behavior. If you get the sense that a loved one “isn’t acting like their usual self,” this can be the first sign of a problem. A few common behavioral patterns tend to emerge during addiction, including:

  • Failure to engage in self-care
  • Chronic lateness or absenteeism 
  • Excessive energy OR excessive lethargy
  • Changes in personal hygiene 
  • Changes in physical appearance 

It is easier to spot these signs in younger populations. If you have concerns about an older friend or relative, don’t assume the symptoms are age-related. Any notable behavioral change in any individual can be the result of an opioid use disorder. 

4. Changes in Relationships

It can be hard to identify the signs of substance use disorders even in those who are closest to you. Take note of the patterns you’ve come to expect over time. If you are intimate with an individual who is struggling, you might notice a marked change in their libido or sex drive while they are experiencing addiction. 

Overuse of opioid medication often leads to poor sexual performance and low sex drive. This is because the medication can impair the secretion of certain hormones. 

Likewise, opioid use disorder can impact personal relationships on a social level. Your own behavior may even have changed to compensate. You might notice that your relationship has become more codependent, or even that you’ve taken on the role of an enabler. 

Atypical violence and deception can also be signs that an individual is struggling with opioid addiction. If you do not feel safe in your relationship, both partners deserve help. 

5. Changes in Mood

When a person begins taking opioids, they may experience euphoria. Often, addicts realize that the medication is affecting pain that they didn’t even realize they had. Over time, users need more of the drug to achieve the same effect.

Opioids rewire the brain and can change the way an individual experiences pleasure. The senses will eventually stop responding to things that once brought them joy. They will need more sensation to feel any emotion at all.

Thus, a depressive mood is one of the most telling signs that someone is suffering from an opioid use disorder. Drug use becomes a way to self-medicate for this drug-induced depression. It rapidly becomes a vicious cycle. 

Unfortunately, these symptoms can persist even after an individual has ceased drug use. It’s important to work with a mental health professional to find relief from drug-related mood changes. 

Know Your Opioid Use Disorder Symptoms

If you were struggling, you would want someone to recognize the signs and symptoms and offer you a way out. Once you know the most common opioid use disorder symptoms, you can be there to genuinely change someone’s life. The more we come to understand opioid addiction, the better allies and advocates we can become. 

If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction, we want to help match you with the services you need. Take a look at the rest of the blog for more posts about outpatient rehab services and medication-assisted addiction treatment. 

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