The symptoms of opiate addiction vary from person to person, but there are common signs that mark abuse of this class of drugs. Typically, those signs can be divided into three main categories: psychological or mood-related; behavioral; and physical.
In the psychological category, a person abusing or addicted to an opiate will display a sense of increased general anxiety—which may include panic attacks, especially if they fear running out of or needing to obtain more the drug—as well as periods of depression, irritability and greatly lowered motivation. Additionally, the opiate addict may display symptoms that seem positive or beneficial, such as consistent euphoria and improved self-esteem. However, these periods of highs often conceal a series of opiate addiction mood swings and personality changes that occur in those who have gained a tolerance to the drugs.
Behaviorally, the opiate addict will use the drug—which in many cases was originally obtained as a prescription for the treatment of a physical injury resulting in a need for pain management—for longer or at a greater amount than the prescribing physician intended. The addict may also make unsuccessful attempts to decrease the amount they’re taking and may abandon formerly important activities in favor of spending most of their time obtaining or binging on the drug or recovering from its effects.
In a physical sense, the opiate addict or abuser will also experience seemingly positive effects such as improved alertness, energy and sexual arousal as well as increased sensory perception. However, they will also experience dangerous internal conditions such as an increased heart rate, constricted blood vessels, high blood pressure, difficulty sleeping and heightened physical agitation with leads to paranoia and, in some cases, psychotic episodes.
As widespread addiction to opiates is a relatively recent trend in this country, many medical professionals and addiction specialists are attempting to make a distinction of opiate dependence versus opiate addiction. In a state of dependence, the body relies on the drug merely to prevent the symptoms of withdrawal, and that dependence—in its early stages—can be managed with a slow tapering off of use. However, as the user builds a tolerance to the drug the body loses the ability to produce naturally occurring substances that mirror the effects of opiates, and therefore becomes dependent on external sources of the drugs.
When a state of opiate addiction is reached, the user can no longer control the cravings for the drugs—cravings that occur when the brain is altered at a chemical level—and begins using them compulsively despite the serious dangers they present to their health and psychological well-being. Therefore, when an addict attempts to quit taking the drugs without the help and guidance of addiction specialists the chance of an opiate addiction relapse is overwhelmingly common as the cravings are difficult to overcome.
To determine whether someone is opiate dependent or addicted there are several clinical tests utilized by physicians and addiction counselors during the withdrawal period that measure such conditions, such as resting pulse rate; occurrence of chills and sweating; a level of restlessness; pupil size and dilation; digestive upset; aches in the bones and joints; tremors; anxiety or irritability; and others. By rating these conditions on a scale health professionals can determine whether the individual is merely physical dependent or addicted to opiates.