Narcotics are a class of drugs used to treat pain and dull the physical senses. You may be given a narcotic class drug to treat your pain after you sustain an injury or have surgery. Narcotics can also be used to reduce deep muscular tension. Narcotics can be prescribed by your doctor and also used illicitly. The list of narcotics includes opioid drugs that are commonly misused with dangerous consequences. In 2019, opioid drugs accounted for approximately 50,000 overdose deaths in the U.S.1

In This Article:

Types of Narcotics

You may hear people refer to all drugs as “narcotics,” but in reality, narcotics refer to three forms of opiate drugs:2

  • Naturally occurring opium products, including morphine and codeine, which are derived from the poppy plant Papaver somniferum
  • Semi-synthetic opioid products that are made partly from the plant source of opium and synthesized in a lab. These include heroin, and the medications hydrocodone, oxycodone, and hydromorphone.
  • Synthetic opioids that are made entirely in a lab. These include fentanyl, meperidine, and methadone.

Opiate drugs are controlled substances regulated by the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA). Schedule 1 drugs, which include heroin and fentanyl, have a high potential for misuse, addiction, and harm, with no currently accepted medical use in the U.S.3

Schedule 2 drugs have an accepted medical purpose but also are associated with a high potential for misuse, addiction, and harm. Schedule 2 drugs include opium, fentanyl, codeine, methadone, morphine, hydrocodone, hydomorphone, and oxycodone.3

Legal and illicit narcotics come in many different shapes and sizes and can be used in different ways depending on their purpose. Narcotics can be swallowed, smoked, sniffed, or injected. You can find narcotics as pills, powders, syrups, skin patches, skin gel patches, injections, and rectal suppositories. Narcotics can also have a variety of colors such as bright white, dark brown, light brown, grey, and black like tar.2

Effects of Narcotics on the Body

Narcotics work by blocking pain receptors in the brain. Your doctor may prescribe narcotics to treat moderate to severe pain, suppress aggressive cough, and relieve deep muscular tension.3 How narcotics affect the body depends greatly on how much is taken, if you have previously taken a narcotic, and in what form the narcotic drug is taken. The general sense of eased tension, relaxation, and euphoria is the reason why narcotic use can lead to addiction.2

The narcotics list of side effects includes:2

  • Constipation
  • Nausea
  • Dry mouth
  • Vomiting
  • Sleepiness
  • Dizziness
  • Confusion
  • Depression
  • Itching and sweating
  • Apathy
  • Brain fog
  • Inability to concentrate on daily tasks or work
  • Low testosterone levels that result in decreased sex drive, energy, and strength

If you are taking narcotics and notice any of these symptoms, let your doctor know. Because of the highly addictive nature of narcotic drugs, you should only be taking them as prescribed and for as little time as possible. As the dosage of narcotics becomes higher, so does the chance for the body to become dependent on them.

Commonly Known Narcotics List

Below is a list of narcotics most widely known. These are just some of the most commonly known narcotic drugs; besides these, there are many other types of narcotic medications.


Oxycodone (Percocet) is one of the most widely prescribed drugs available in medicine today. It is one of the main offenders in the U.S. opioid crisis. Your doctor may prescribe you Oxycodone to treat your pain after surgery or injury. You should never take more than is directed, and, when possible, you should always take a more mild, non-narcotic pain reliever.


Hydrocodone (Vicoden, Lortab) is another popular narcotic drug that doctors prescribe as a treatment to help suppress a deep or nagging cough that won’t go away. It is also a very effective pain killer. Hydrocodone usually comes as a pill and is widely misused by snorting, injecting, or smoking the drug.


Morphine is a natural derivative that comes directly from the opium poppy plant. Morphine is used for both acute and chronic pain management and also provides sedation before surgical procedures. Morphine is one of the most widely used medications to treat pain in hospital settings. It typically stays active in the bloodstream for 4-6 hours and is highly addictive.


Fentanyl is a drug that is used to treat chronic pain in individuals who have become tolerant of other opioids. It is a powerful synthetic drug, about 50 times more potent than heroin, that is one of the most addictive drugs known.4 It is often used illegally and is known for giving its users an extreme rush of euphoria. Fentanyl is the leading opioid drug responsible for overdose deaths. In 2020, nearly 43,000 people in the U.S. died from a fentanyl overdose.5


Heroin is an illegal drug used recreationally for its euphoric effects and to dull emotional pain. A person who is addicted to heroin will always be searching for the original high their first use of the drug gave them, which makes heroin so dangerously addictive. Heroin’s side effects include impaired cognition, sedation, slow heart rate, and slow respiratory rate. People addicted to heroin often go between being awake and alert and lethargic and apathetic.3

Signs of Narcotic Addiction

Because of the way they act on the nervous system and the brain, narcotics are some of the most highly addictive drugs known today. Narcotics are so addictive because of the pain-blocking effect they have on the opioid receptors of the human brain. Narcotics have a very high potential for life-threatening overdose due to the ever-increasing amounts of the drug that are needed to achieve the same original high feeling. This is because the narcotic drugs begin to build up around the receptors of the brain, blocking them from receiving messages.

Below are several signs you or someone you love could be addicted to narcotics:6

  • Large mood swings
  • Irregular sleep patterns
  • Loss of appetite and weight
  • Needing larger amounts of narcotics to achieve a feeling of being high
  • Asking friends and family for money to buy narcotics
  • Multiple areas of life becoming neglected because of narcotic use
  • Loss of purpose and love of life
  • An increased sensitivity to pain
  • A drop in work or school performance
  • Lack of attention to normal life responsibilities
  • Dropping out of social interactions
  • Asking others for their medications
  • Altering the way narcotics are taken to achieve an increased high
  • Decline in personal hygiene
  • Unexplained medical bottles or pills
  • Lack of interest in new relationships
  • Financial strain
  • Flu-like symptoms that worsen when you stop taking your narcotics

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Treatment for Narcotic Addiction

Narcotic addiction, whether from one of the drugs mentioned in the list of narcotics above or from other opioid drugs, is one of the most prevalent addictions known today. In 2019, more than 9 million people in the U.S. misused opioid medications.7 What often starts as a medically needed reason for using narcotic drugs can quickly turn into an addiction that you may need professional help to overcome. This is why it is very important to only use your medications as prescribed and in as little amounts as possible.

Treatment for narcotic addiction is best approached with a complete view of the person. Addiction is a multi-faceted disease that requires healing of a person physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. Medications such as methadone, buprenorphine, and naltrexone are effective in treating opioid use disorders.8 You may want to seek a professionally monitored detox and rehabilitation program that best fits your needs. There are many options when it comes to getting help with your addiction to narcotics.

These options include but are not limited to:

  • Medical detoxification
  • An evidence-based approach known as medication-assisted treatment that combines medication with behavioral counseling
  • Participation in a 12-step program such as Narcotics Anonymous (NA)
  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy
  • EMDR therapy to reduce the presence of traumatic memories or life events
  • Healing past emotional hurts
  • Reforming relationships with your family and friends
  • Learning to love yourself and your life
  • Adapting a healthier lifestyle and diet
  • Sober living housing to safely rejoin society after your treatment plan has been completed

Other therapies for opioid addiction are also available. Each individual should be treated with a unique rehab plan that meets their unique needs, interests, and lifestyle.

Know There is Help For You

By recognizing the signs and symptoms of narcotics addiction, you can regain control of your life. If you or someone you know is struggling with using narcotics, please call 800-934-1582(Who Answers?) to start on your way to a healthier, happier life free of the burdens of addiction.


  1. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2021, January 29). Overdose Death Rates.
  2. Department of Justice. (2020, April). Narcotics.
  3. Drug Enforcement Administration. (2020). Drug of Abuse – A DEA Resource Guide. U.S. Department of Justice.
  4. Drug Enforcement Administration. Facts about Fentanyl.
  5. National Center for Drug Abuse Statistics. Fentanyl Abuse Statistics.
  6. Johns Hopkins Medicine. (2021). Opioid Addiction. Johns Hopkins Medicine.
  7. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2020). Key Substance Use and Mental Health Indicators in the United States: Results from the 2019 National Survey on Drug Use and Health.
  8. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2016). Effective Treatments for Opioid Addiction. National Institutes of Health.

the Take-Away

Narcotics are used to treat moderate to severe pain. If you are prescribed an opioid medication, it’s important to use it carefully as instructed to avoid the potential for misuse and addiction.