Narcotics Abuse – Symptoms, Risk Factors, Treatment Options

Narcotic abuse, or opioid addiction, is causing a serious public health crisis in the U.S. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), nearly 450,000 people died from an opioid overdose, including prescription medications and illicit opioids.1

In This Article:

What Are Narcotics?

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) describes narcotics as a range of mind-altering substances that dull sensory experiences and relieve pain.2 In the past, “narcotic” was a broad term for all illicit drugs. Now, narcotics are most commonly associated with opiates and opioids.

Opiates come from naturally produced opium in a medicinal poppy plant. Opioids, on the other hand, describe synthetic and semisynthetic drugs derived from chemical compounds in a laboratory.

Opioids can take many forms. Qualified health professionals may legally prescribe pain relievers, such as oxycodone (OxyContin®), hydrocodone (Vicodin®), codeine, morphine, etc. Opioids may also include synthetic and illicit drugs, such as heroin and fentanyl, respectively. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the powerful synthetic opioid known as fentanyl is 80 times more potent than morphine.3 Since 2013, fentanyl has been a catalyst for the steep rise in opioid overdoses.

Below is a brief list of narcotics, which have contributed to the opioid overdose epidemic:

Understanding Opioid Misuse and Drug Addiction  

Opioid misuse, drug addiction, and fatal overdoses are a concern for many individuals and families who are losing loved ones. The causes behind the opioid epidemic are diverse. For instance, a doctor may prescribe an opioid to reduce pain after a major injury or surgery. Opioid prescriptions are also common in the treatment of severe pain related to a health condition such as cancer or chronic pain.

Prescription opioid medication comes with a high risk of dependence and addiction if misused. Opioid misuse can lead to heroin use after the prescription has expired which explains the increase in heroin-related overdoses and deaths across the nation. There has also been a surge of illicitly manufactured fentanyl, which is a synthetic opioid. All of these causes have contributed to the epidemic.

Another significant problem contributing to the rise of opioid misuse and drug addiction is the rise in women who are misusing opioids while pregnant.4 This causes babies to be born with an addiction to opioids and immediate withdrawal symptoms, which is called neonatal abstinence syndrome.

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration released the 2020 edition of Drugs of Abuse, A DEA Resource Guide. This resource includes important information about the harms and consequences of drug use, as well as the most commonly abused and misused drugs in the nation. The most abused narcotics include:5

  • Fentanyl (Actiq®, Fentora®, Subsys®)
  • Heroin (Street names: Black Tar, Hell Dust, Smack)
  • Hydromorphone (Dilaudid, EXALGO®, Palladone™)
  • Methadone (Dolophine®, Methadose)
  • Morphine (MS-Contin®, MSir®, RMS®)
  • Opium (Street names: Black Pill, Dopium, Great Tabacco)
  • Oxycodone (OxyContin®, Percodan®, Roxicet®)

Why Do People Become Addicted to Opioids?

According to the American Society of Anesthesiologists, opioids may make your brain and body believe the drug is necessary for survival.6 Once you can tolerate the dose prescribed, you may notice yourself needing a higher dose to relieve your pain. This need for more medication may lead to dependency.

Your personal history combined with how long you use opioids may also play a role in addiction, yet it’s difficult to predict who’s vulnerable to eventual opioid misuse and drug abuse. Further, medical professionals describe addition “as an irresistible craving for a drug, out-of-control and compulsive use of the drug, and continued use of the drug despite repeated, harmful consequences.” 7

Risk Factors of Narcotics Abuse

Although anyone can become addicted to drugs, there are certain situations that may put you at higher risk, including:7

  • Criminal activity
  • Family history of substance abuse
  • History of severe depression or anxiety
  • Lower socioeconomic status
  • Personal history of substance abuse
  • Prior drug or alcohol rehabilitation
  • Regular contact with high-risk people
  • Risk-taking or thrill-seeking behavior
  • Stressful circumstances
  • Substantial tobacco use
  • Unemployment
  • Younger adults

How to Tell If a Loved One is Abusing Narcotics

Narcotics abuse is a serious public health concern, so loved ones need to increase their awareness of addiction as well as the signs and symptoms of narcotics abuse. There are a range of signs you can look for to determine if a loved one is misusing opioids or narcotics.

Ask yourself these questions first:

  1. What are the chances my loved one could be addicted? (Pay attention to the known risk factors of narcotics abuse.)
  2. What changes have you noticed?

Signs of opioid addiction to look out for in your loved one include, but are not limited to:

  • Not taking medication as intended, such as taking more than the prescribed dose or continues using a drug after it’s no longer necessary for pain relief.
  • Feeling shaky, depressed, sick, sweaty, or experiencing headaches when the drug wears off. They may also experience mood changes, such as excessive mood swings.
  • Spending a lot of time thinking about the drug. They may try to borrow or steal medications from others or pretend to lose the medication for more medication to be prescribed.
  • Losing interest in hobbies or passions, having trouble doing everyday tasks, or putting themselves in danger, such as driving recklessly or stealing money for drugs.
  • Having bloodshot eyes, bad breath, frequent bloody noses, or a significant difference in their weight.

Treatment Options for Narcotics Abuse

Drug addiction is a chronic disease, so if you are a victim of narcotics abuse you may need long-term or repeated care. Effective drug addiction treatments may include:9


  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020.) Opioid Overdose.
  2. United States Drug Enforcement Administration. (n.d). Narcotics (Opioids).
  3. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2019). Fentanyl DrugFacts.
  4. MedlinePlus. (2020). Opioid Misuse and Addiction.
  5. United States Drug Enforcement Administration. (2020). Drugs of Abuse, A DEA Resource Guide / 2020 Edition.
  6. American Society of Anesthesiologists. (n.d.). Opioid Abuse.
  7. Mayo Clinic. (2018). How opioid addiction occurs.

the Take-Away

Narcotics abuse is a growing trend due to the highly addictive nature of opioid medications. Treatment options are available to get your life back to normal.