If you recognize any of these signs of opioid addiction in yourself or a loved one, it’s time to reach out for help.
20 Ways to Tell when You Need Treatment for a Narcotic Addiction
Narcotics are a class of drugs that includes synthetic and opium-derived substances generally referred to as opioids.1 Opioid addiction can affect anyone who uses narcotics, even when taking legal opioid medications prescribed by their doctor.2 Over time, your body can build up a tolerance to narcotics, meaning you will need higher doses of the same substance to experience the desired effects. Tolerance is just one of the signs of opioid addiction.3 By identifying additional warning signs, you will know when to seek opioid addiction treatment.
In this Article:
Signs of Opioid Addiction
These 20 signs of opioid addiction are detailed in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5). If you are concerned about one or more of these warning signs, it may be time to seek opioid addiction treatment.4
1. You Take Opioids in Larger Amounts
Have you noticed that you take larger doses of narcotics than you did when you first used opioids? This sign can include looking back at your first prescription dose and noticing it has significantly increased under your doctor’s supervision. Your doctor may have increased the prescription strength, approved a higher number of pills as part of your daily regimen, or combined your opioid medication with other controlled substances that increase the risk of developing physical dependence, such as benzodiazepines (e.g., Xanax) or muscle relaxers. This dose increase could mean it’s time to seek treatment for opioid addiction.4
2. You Take a Narcotic for a Longer Time Than Intended
Were you prescribed an opioid for short-term use, but you still use the narcotic past the physician-directed period? This may include using pills you were prescribed after you need them for acute symptoms, using someone else’s prescription for the same medication, or acquiring the same medication in another way. Opioids are highly effective pain relievers but are medically indicated for short-term use rather than chronic pain management. This continued use may be cause for concern.4
3. Your Efforts to Control Opioid Use Are Unsuccessful
If you have promised yourself that you will change how you use opioids or stop using narcotics but have not met that goal, it could mean that you need opioid addiction treatment.4
4. You Spend a Great Deal of Time on Activities That Help You Obtain the Opioid
When you look at the hours in your day, is a lot of your time devoted to narcotics? This time spent can manifest in many different behaviors. For example, you may obsessively plan how to present your case to your prescribing physician to get a new prescription, you may be willing to drive to a doctor or pharmacy that is further away. These may be signs of opioid addiction and could be worth discussing with an addiction specialist.4
5. You Regularly Switch Doctors to Get New Narcotic Prescriptions
If you live with opioid addiction, the need for a higher dose of narcotics to achieve the same effects may lead to you seeking new physicians regularly. These providers may not be aware of your medical history or current prescriptions and may be more likely to write new prescriptions. But seeking unnecessary prescriptions could indicate you have lost control of your opioid use.4
6. You Experience Craving or a Strong Desire to Use Opioids
While the term “craving” is usually used casually, in the context of addiction, cravings can make it difficult for you to get through the day without using an opioid. If your cravings keep you from feeling like yourself without using opioids, this could be a sign of addiction.5
7. Your Opioid Use Leaves You Unable to Meet Your School, Work, or Home Obligations
Have you missed assignment deadlines at work or school as a consequence of your opioid use? Or are you not performing at your best when you do complete assignments? Have you forgotten to pick up your children, make dinner, or meet your share of household chores because of narcotics use? These could all be signs that you struggle with opioid addiction.4
8. Your Opioid Use Causes or Worsens Problems in Your Social Relationships
If your narcotic use is interfering with your relationships, it could indicate a substance use disorder. Social problems look different for everyone: your friends or family members may avoid making plans with you. Or you may abandon old relationships to spend more time with other people who misuse narcotics. All of these can be signs of narcotic addiction.4
9. You Experience Changes in Sexual Desire or Performance
Regular narcotic use changes your brain function, and it can make you less interested in sex. Because it also changes your brain’s reward cycle, it can change your physical response to sexual stimulation.7
10. You Give Up or Spend Less Time on Favorite Activities
Were you an avid runner, but now you have given up on race training because the pursuit feels less fulfilling since you began taking opioids? Are you an artist, but it has gotten harder to create since you started taking opioids? New disinterest in your hobbies and passions could be signs that you struggle with addiction.4
11. You Experience Drowsiness or Changes in Sleep Habits
Opioid use can cause a sedative effect in your body. That could lead to mid-day drowsiness, which can also impact your ability to sleep at night. Over time, you may associate narcotic use with your ability to sleep, causing you to take more narcotics and further impacting your sleep cycle.8
12. You Experience New Financial Challenges
Procuring narcotics can be very expensive. You may spend beyond your means or accrue large amounts of new credit card debt that can be indicative that you are struggling with narcotic misuse.4
13. You Have Negative Behavioral Changes
If you live with narcotic addiction, obtaining opioids may become your most important priority. This change in priorities, along with the dramatic mood changes that can be associated with opioid use (discussed next), may lead to you doing things you would not have considered before, even if you feel shame or guilt associated with these behaviors. The need to acquire opioids may lead to lying to loved ones about your use, borrowing money for unexplained reasons or under false pretenses, or stealing.4
14. You Experience Sudden Mood Swings
Taking opioids releases a sudden burst of dopamine in your brain. Those dopamine levels drop dramatically as the opioid effects wear off. That can leave you fluctuating between euphoria and dramatic low moods. If this cycle is becoming more frequent, it could be a sign you are struggling with narcotic use.3
15. Your Opioid Use Has Become Physically Hazardous
If you have taken opioids in a way that risks physical harm to yourself, this could indicate that you are not in control of your substance use. 4 This could include mixing opioids with other depressants like alcohol or operating a vehicle or machinery while impaired.
16. You Experience Physical or Psychological Health Issues
Many people who struggle with opioid use develop new or worsening depression. Physically, you may also experience unwanted weight loss, chronic or severe constipation, or other significant mental or physical health issues.3 If you continue to take a narcotic while knowing it damages your well-being, this could indicate an opioid addiction.4
17. You Overdose
If you have ever overdosed on narcotics, blacked out after use, or required medical attention as a result of your narcotic use, you may need to seek opioid addiction treatment.4
18. You Think About or Attempt Suicide
Opioid misuse is associated with a greater risk of suicide.4 If you experience severe depression while taking opioids that causes you to make plans for suicide, seek help immediately.
19. You Go Through Withdrawal
If you start to experience physical withdrawal symptoms between opioid doses, you may have a narcotics addiction. Symptoms include stomach pain, nausea, vomiting, muscle pain, chills, and/or watering eyes.3
20. You Use the Same Substance, or a Similar Narcotic, More Frequently to Avoid Withdrawal Symptoms
You may find yourself trying to control your own dosage or avoid withdrawal by taking more opioids during the day than prescribed or taking your prescription medication using a different method. For example, some individuals open capsules or crush pills to eliminate the time release coating that releases the medication over time. If you have turned to other substances instead of or in addition to prescription opioids, such as heroin, to delay opioid withdrawal, you may wish to seek narcotic addiction treatment.4
Treatment for Opioid Addiction
If you show signs of narcotic addiction, treatment is available. Opioid addiction treatment options may include behavioral counseling such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) or dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT).9
Several medications can help treat opioid addiction. These include methadone, buprenorphine, and naltrexone. Methadone and buprenorphine can reduce cravings and symptoms of withdrawal by acting on the same areas of your brain as opioids.9 Naltrexone is for people who have completed detoxification. It works by blocking the effects of opioids on receptors in your brain.9
Whether in an inpatient or outpatient setting, opioid addiction treatment may also include treatment for additional mental health concerns, including depression or anxiety. 9
In combination or as stand-alone options, these forms of treatment for narcotic addiction can help you break free from opioids. Call (800) 407-7195(Who Answers?) today to speak to an addiction specialist about treatment options in your area.
- Department of Justice, Drug Enforcement Agency. (2020). Drug Fact Sheet: Narcotics.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). (2011, November 4). Vital signs: overdoses of prescription opioid pain relievers—United States, 1999–2008. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, 60(43), 1487-1492.
- Kosten, T. R., & George, T. P. (2002). The neurobiology of opioid dependence: implications for treatment. Science and Practice Perspectives, 1(1):13-20.
- American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5).
- Hasin, D. S., O’Brien, C. P., Auriacombe, M., Borges, G., Bucholz, K., Budney, A., Compton, W. M., Crowley, T., Ling, W., Petry, N. M., Schuckit, M. & Grant, B. (2013, August 1). DSM-5 criteria for substance use disorders: Recommendations and rationale. The American Journal of Psychiatry, 170(8), 834–851.
- Pettersen, H., Landheim, A., Skeie, I., Biong, S., Brodahl, M., Oute, J., & Davidson, L. (2019, March 9). How social relationships influence substance use disorder recovery: a collaborative narrative study. Substance Abuse: Research and Treatment, 13.
- Grover, S., Mattoo, S. K., Pendharkar, S., & Kandappan, V. (2014). Sexual dysfunction in patients with alcohol and opioid dependence. Indian Journal of Psychological Medicine, 36(4), 355-365.
- Robertson, J. A., Purple, R. J., Cole, P., Zaiwalla, Z., Wulff, K., & Pattinson, K. T. (2016, August 22). Sleep disturbance in patients taking opioid medication for chronic back pain. Anaesthesia, 71(11), 1296-1307.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2019). Treatment Approaches for Drug Addiction DrugFacts.