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Narcotic Abuse

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Mar 2, 2022.

What is narcotic abuse?

Narcotic abuse is when you continue to use narcotics even though they are hurting you or others. Narcotics are medicines used to decrease or take away severe pain. Narcotics may also be called opioids. You may have the following ongoing or repeated problems:

  • Trouble doing your job, attending school, or doing necessary things at home, such as care for your children
  • Driving a vehicle or operating machinery while under the influence of narcotics
  • Legal problems, such as being arrested while under the influence of narcotics
  • Ongoing problems with your friends, family, or others that are caused or made worse by using narcotics

What is narcotic dependence?

Narcotic dependence is when using the drugs leads to at least 3 of the following problems within 1 year:

  • Tolerance to narcotics that makes you need more narcotics to feel its effects.
  • Withdrawal symptoms if you stop using narcotics after using them heavily over a period of time. Withdrawal may also happen if your healthcare provider changes your medicine. You may try using a similar drug to reduce or prevent the signs and symptoms of withdrawal.
  • Use of more narcotics than you should. You may use more of the narcotic or use it over a longer period of time than you intended.
  • No ability to decrease or control your use of narcotics. You may want narcotics all of the time. You may feel it is not possible to decrease or control the amount you are using.
  • Less time spent around others, at work, or doing activities that you enjoy. You may spend most or all of your time using narcotics, searching for narcotics, or managing a hangover. A hangover is a feeling you have hours after using a drug. You may feel very tired and nauseated.
  • Continued use of the drug even though it worsens your physical or mental condition. For example, you may get depressed after you use narcotics, but you keep using them.

What is narcotic intoxication?

Narcotic intoxication usually lasts for several hours. You may have the following during or after you use narcotics:

  • Abnormal behavior or mood changes, such as a feeling of wellbeing, followed by not caring about anyone or anything
  • Trouble thinking, remembering things, or focusing
  • Small pupils
  • Drowsiness
  • Slurred speech

What is withdrawal?

Signs and symptoms of withdrawal occur if you stop using narcotics after using them heavily over a period of time. Signs and symptoms may begin within minutes or days and continue for days or even months. You will have 3 or more of the following signs and symptoms:

  • Depression and anxiety
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Muscle aches
  • Watery eyes or runny nose
  • Large pupils
  • Sweating or goosebumps on your skin
  • Diarrhea
  • Fever
  • Trouble sleeping

How is narcotic abuse, dependence, intoxication, or withdrawal diagnosed?

Healthcare providers will ask you questions about your use of narcotics and the effects that the drug has on you. You may need tests to help your healthcare provider learn more about your signs and symptoms.

How can narcotics harm a pregnant woman and her baby?

  • Tell your healthcare provider right away if you are trying to get pregnant or you are pregnant and you are using narcotics. Your doctor may suggest other medicines to control pain and prevent withdrawal. If you go through withdrawal while pregnant, you may miscarry your baby, or he may be stillborn. He may be very small and have other medical problems.
  • When your baby is born, he may show signs of withdrawal. This includes unexpected weight loss, poor feeding, and more crying than normal. Your baby may also have a fever, vomit, and have diarrhea. He may also have learning problems or other health issues when he gets older. If you have a baby and you are using narcotics, you may have trouble caring for your baby. Narcotics may be passed to your baby through breast milk. Talk to your healthcare provider before breastfeeding your baby if you are using narcotics.

Where can I find support and more information?

  • Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
    PO Box 2345
    Rockville , MD 20847-2345
    Web Address:
  • National Institute on Drug Abuse
    6001 Executive Boulevard, Room 5213
    Bethesda , MD 20892-9561
    Phone: 1- 301 - 443-1124
    Web Address:

When should I seek immediate care?

  • You are very drowsy.
  • Your speech is slurred.
  • You have trouble thinking, remembering things, or focusing.

When should I contact my healthcare provider?

  • You want help or information on how to stop using or abusing narcotics.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your caregivers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.