Signs, Symptoms & Side Effects of Opioid Addiction

Written by Erica Weiman

& Medically Reviewed by Benjamin Caleb Williams, RN

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Last Updated - 10/18/2023

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Updated 10/18/2023

Learn about the many different side effects opioids can cause and why opioids are some of the most lethal addictive drugs in the United States.

Opioid addiction is a serious epidemic occurring not only in urban areas in Colorado like Denver, Colorado Springs and Boulder, but also in rural areas statewide and throughout the nation. Misuse of opioids can lead to physical dependence, addiction and unfortunately overdoses and deaths.

Opioids are a class of drugs that include prescription painkillers and heroin. There are many side effects of opioid use and abuse, as well as opioid overdose signs. It’s imperative to understand the signs of an opioid use disorder to help yourself or your loved one toward recovery.

Symptoms of Opioid Abuse

Many opioid side effects happen because of the way these drugs affect the brain and body. Opioid analgesic side effects include not only pain relief as intended, but they also create a sense of euphoria in the user, which is often then followed by intense relaxation or drowsiness.

Other opioid side effects include:

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

The side effects of opioids can range from relatively mild, particularly when someone first starts using them, to severe and potentially fatal, including coma and overdose. More serious side effects typically only occur when too high a dose is taken, causing suppression of the respiratory system.

Long-Term Effects of Opioid Use

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

When someone takes opioids for a prolonged period of time, their brain can begin to release endorphins and dopamine. These chemicals are used by the brain to learn and reinforce behaviors, and this chemical process can make it difficult to stop using opioids once it is established.  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 to.

People who are addicted to opioids may not be able to stop taking them even if they understand the negative effects, 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.

When someone is dependent on opioids, their brain and body have adjusted to the presence of the drugs, and therefore the body needs the drug to function normally. When someone who is physically dependent on opioids stops using them, they will go through opioid withdrawal symptoms.

Opioid Depression Symptoms

Many signs of an opioid use disorder can be related to mood changes, and there are studies showing that long-term use can increase the chances of 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. The onset or worsening of depression due to opioids can then lead to self-medicating with opioids.

It’s important to be aware of opioid depression symptoms, including a flat emotional state and social isolation.

Signs of Opioid Addiction

If someone has an opioid use disorder, it can be tough to notice a problem until their addiction has progressed, but some early signs of opioid abuse are often related to lifestyle and behavior.

Signs of opioid use and addiction include doctor shopping, which involves visiting multiple doctors to get more opioid prescriptions, changing moods, or environmental signs, like extra pill bottles showing up.

As with substance use disorder, signs of opioid abuse can also include a loss of interest in school or work, or withdrawal from the relationships in their life. Financial problems may also be a red flag for opioid abuse.

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
  • Relationship issues due to drug use
  • Faking pain or injuries to be prescribed more drugs

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

With opioid dependence, the first sign is tolerance, or taking higher doses to achieve the same effect, but the biggest indicator of opioid dependence is the occurrence of withdrawal symptoms once the individual stops taking the drug. Opioid withdrawal symptoms can include muscle aches, restlessness, anxiety, teary eyes, runny nose, sweating, yawning and sleep problems.

Signs of an Opioid Overdose

In some cases, people who suffer from an opioid overdose can be revived, but in many cases, they can’t be. When an opioid overdose occurs, it means a person has taken so much of the drug that it slows their respiratory system to a dangerous level.

Some opioid overdose signs and signs of opioid toxicity include:

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

If you suspect someone is suffering from an opioid overdose, contact emergency services immediately and administer naloxone if you can. 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.

If you recognize any side effects of short-term or long-term opioid use, contact The Recovery Village at Palmer Lake to speak with our skilled, compassionate staff who can help you pursue the right treatment option for your unique situation.


US Department of Health and Human Services. “What is the U.S. Opioid Epidemic?” October 27, 2021. Accessed November 29, 2021.

US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Drug Overdose Deaths.” March 3, 2021. Accessed November 29, 2021.

Benyamin, Ramsin; Trescot, Andrea M; & et al. “Opioid complications and side effects.” Pain Physician, March 2008. Accessed November 29, 2021.

National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Opioids.” 2021. Accessed November 29, 2021.

World Health Organization. “Opioid overdose.” August 4, 2021. Accessed November 29, 2021.

MedlinePlus. “Opioid Misuse and Addiction.” August 2, 2021. Accessed November 29, 2021.

Rosoff, Daniel B.; Smith, George Davey; & Lohoff, Falk W. “Prescription Opioid Use and Risk for Maj[…]ss-Related Disorders.” JAMA Psychiatry, November 11, 2020. Accessed November 29, 2021.


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