Opioid Symptoms, Signs & Side Effects

Opioid addiction is a serious, troubling epidemic not only in urban areas in Colorado like Denver, Colorado Springs, and Boulder but also in rural areas statewide and throughout the nation. The use of opioids leads to physical dependence, addiction, and unfortunately, in too many cases it also leads to overdoses and deaths.

Opioids are a class of drugs that include prescription painkillers as well as the illegal drug heroin. The following highlights some of the side effects of opioid use and abuse, as well as opioid overdose signs.

Opioid Side Effects

Many of the side effects related to the use of opioids are due to the effects these drugs have on the brain and body. Opioid analgesic side effects include not only pain relief, but when they bind the opioid receptors found in the central nervous system, they create a sense of euphoria in the user, which is often then followed by intense relaxation or drowsiness.

Other opioid drugs side effects include:

  • Nodding off intermittently
  • Heaviness of the extremities
  • Flushing
  • Small pupils
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Itchiness
  • Confusion
  • Constipation

Other side effects of opioids can include behavioral changes, which will be covered below.

The side effects of opioids can range from relatively mild, particularly when someone first starts using them, to very severe and deadly, such as coma and overdose. Colorado is in the midst of a tremendous opioid problem right now, and that’s one of the reasons that understanding the side effects of opioids can be important for people so they can recognize a problem in their loved one before it’s too late.

Opioid Addiction: Symptoms, Signs, & Side Effects

Opioid Side Effects of Long-Term Use

In the short-term, opioid side effects are primarily focused on the sense of euphoria and then drowsiness caused by these drugs, and then physical side effects like nausea and vomiting.

Over time with opioid use in the long-term, the symptoms can shift.

One of the primary side effects of long-term opioid use is an addiction.

When someone takes opioids repeatedly, their brain creates a reward cycle where the user is compelled to keep seeking the drugs out. The initial decision to use opioids was in the control of the user, but opioids uniquely affect the brain in a way that quickly leaves the user out of control in many cases. When you’re addicted to opioids, whether prescriptions or heroin, even if you want to stop using them, you may find that you’re unable.

People who are addicted to opioids will often see the negative effects the drugs are having on their life, yet they just can’t eliminate them, which is why it’s important to seek professional drug treatment in Colorado or nationwide.

Another long-term side effect of opioid use is dependence. Physical dependence is different from addiction, and the two can occur alongside each other, or separately.

With a physical dependence to opioids, a person’s brain and body have adjusted to the presence of the drugs, and therefore they see them as part of normalcy. When someone is physically dependent on opioids and stops using them, they will go through withdrawal.

Opioid Medication Side Effects

While there has been a statewide push in Colorado, including metros like Denver and Boulder, to educate people about the dangers and risks of prescription opioids, there are still misconceptions that lead people to become addicted to these drugs.

The side effects of opioid pain medication such as Vicodin or Percocet are similar to the side effects of heroin.

These side effects can range from the euphoria, nausea, vomiting, and itching often experienced in the beginning, to the severe side effects that can come with long-term opioid use like addiction, dependence, and overdose.

Even when people aren’t abusing opioid medications, they may experience some of the adverse symptoms of these drugs, which also include constipation.

Side Effects of Opioid Abuse

With opioid abuse, it can be tough to spot a problem until abuse or full-blown addiction are occurring, but some of the earliest signs of opioid abuse are often related to lifestyle and behavior.

Signs of opioid use and addiction include doctor shopping, which means attempting to get multiple opioid prescriptions, changing moods, or things like extra pill bottles popping up.

As with any drug abuse problem, signs of opioid abuse can also include someone who seems to be losing interest in school or their career or withdrawing from the relationships in their life. Financial problems may also be a red flag and one of the early signs of opioid abuse.

Opioid and Opiate Addiction Symptoms

When someone moves from opioid abuse to opioid addiction, the signs can become even clearer to the people around the addict.

Opioid and opiate addiction signs may include:

  • Doing risky or illegal things to get more drugs
  • Trying to stop using opioids but being unsuccessful
  • Making opioids a priority
  • Using higher doses of opioids
  • Problems with relationships because of drug use
  • Faking pain or injuries to get drugs

It’s important to realize that the symptoms of opioid addiction are unique from the symptoms of opioid dependence. Addiction is a psychological condition, while opioid dependence is physical.

With opioid dependence, the first sign is often taking higher doses, but the biggest indicator of opioid dependence is having withdrawal symptoms when you suddenly stop taking the drugs. Opioid withdrawal symptoms can include muscle aches, restlessness, anxiety, teary eyes, runny nose, sweating, yawning and sleep problems.

Opioid Side Effects of Long-Term Use

Opioids Symptoms

General symptoms of opioid use were touched on above. Some of the most typical symptoms of opioid use include small pupils, euphoria alternating with drowsiness, nodding off, confusion, disorientation and clouded judgment. Constipation is also one of the primary opioids symptoms of use.

What about opioid overdose signs and symptoms?

Opioid overdoses are unfortunately all too common in Colorado and across the U.S., and in some cases, people who suffer from an opioid overdose can be revived, but in many cases, they can’t be. With an opioid overdose, a person takes so much of the drug that it slows their respiratory system down to a dangerous or deadly level.

Some of the opioid overdose signs and signs of opioid toxicity include:

  • Very slow or shallow breathing
  • A blush tint to fingernails or lips
  • Extreme confusion
  • Nodding off
  • Delirium
  • Limp body
  • Clammy skin
  • Vomiting

If any of the signs of opioid toxicity are noticed, it’s essential to contact emergency services immediately. Signs of opioid intoxication can lead to coma and eventual death. Signs of opioid intoxication should never be ignored or diminished because of how serious an opioid overdose is.

Drug overdose can be fatal. If you suspect someone is experiencing an overdose, call 911 immediately. Do NOT be afraid to seek help. If you do not have access to a phone contact Colorado Poison Center for online assistance.

Opioid Depression Symptoms

Many of the signs of opioid abuse can be related to mood changes, and there are studies showing the long-term use of opioids can increase the chances of someone experiencing depression. When someone has an existing history of depression and then takes opioids, they are also more likely to experience major depression and suicidal thoughts.

It’s an unfortunate cycle because the onset or worsening of depression because of opioid abuse can then lead to self-medicating with opioids.

Some of the opioid depression symptoms to look for include a flat emotional state, which occurs as opioids slow brain activity, as well as social isolation.

If you recognize any of the above opioid side effects of short-term or long-term use, contact a Colorado opioid treatment facility to understand what options are available and what the next steps could be.

Medical Disclaimer: The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.