Skip to Content

Narcotic Abuse

What are narcotics?

Narcotics are medicines used to decrease or take away severe pain. Narcotics may also be called opioids. Some common names of narcotics ordered by a doctor are codeine and morphine. Heroin is an illegal street drug that is made from morphine.

What is narcotic abuse?

Narcotic abuse is when you continue to use narcotics even though they are hurting you or others. You may have the following ongoing or repeated problems:

  • You are unable to do your job, attend school, or do necessary things at home, such as care for your children.
  • You drive a vehicle or operate machinery while under the influence of narcotics.
  • You have legal problems related to using narcotics, such as being arrested while under the influence of narcotics.
  • You have ongoing problems with your friends, family, or others that are caused or made worse by using narcotics.

What is narcotic dependence?

Dependence on narcotics is when using the drugs leads to at least 3 of the following problems within 1 year:

  • You have developed a tolerance to narcotics: Tolerance means that you need more narcotics to feel its effects.
  • You have withdrawal symptoms: You may have signs and symptoms of withdrawal if you stop using narcotics after using them heavily over a period of time. Withdrawal may also happen if your caregiver changes your medicine. You may try using a similar drug to reduce or avoid the signs and symptoms of withdrawal.
  • You use more narcotics than you should: You may use more of the narcotic or use it over a longer period of time than you intended.
  • You cannot 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 of drugs you are using.
  • You spend less time 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.
  • You keep using the drug even though it worsens your physical or mental condition: For example, you may get depressed after you use narcotics, but you still 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:

  • You have abnormal behavior or mood changes. You may have a great feeling of wellbeing, followed by the feeling that you do not care about anyone or anything.
  • You have trouble thinking, remembering things, or focusing.
  • The size of your pupils decreases.
  • You become very drowsy.
  • Your speech is slurred.

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 in your eyes
  • Sweating or goosebumps on your skin
  • Diarrhea
  • Fever
  • Trouble sleeping

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

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

  • Psychiatric assessment: Caregivers will ask if you have a history of psychological trauma, such as physical, sexual, or mental abuse. They will ask if you were given the care that you needed. Caregivers will ask you if you have been a victim of a crime or natural disaster, or if you have a serious injury or disease. They will ask you if you have seen other people being harmed, such as in combat. You will be asked if you drink alcohol or use drugs at present or in the past. Caregivers will ask you if you want to hurt or kill yourself or others. How you answer these questions can help caregivers decide on treatment. To help during treatment, caregivers will ask you about such things as how you feel about it and your hobbies and goals. Caregivers will also ask you about the people in your life who support you.

What are the risks of narcotics?

  • An overdose of narcotics can lead to a coma and death.
  • HIV, AIDS, and hepatitis B and C are serious diseases that can be spread through needles, syringes, and other supplies used to inject narcotics. You may also get an infection if you inject narcotics using dirty needles or supplies.
  • Illegal narcotics may be mixed with things like talcum powder, baking soda, or poisons. If there are lumps that do not melt when mixed with water, the lumps may get stuck in your veins and cause infections or clots. Clots can travel to your heart, lungs, or brain and may kill you.
  • Snorting or sniffing heroin may cause a hole to develop in the cartilage that separates the 2 sides of your nose. If you use pure heroin, you may overdose and die.
  • Black tar heroin may contain the bacteria that causes botulism. Botulism is a serious illness that can be life-threatening.

How can narcotics harm a pregnant woman and her baby?

  • Tell your caregiver 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. Women who take illegal narcotics or overdose on narcotics while they are pregnant may also miscarry. They also risk having a stillborn baby, or having a baby that is very small and has other medical problems.
  • Babies born to women who used narcotics during pregnancy may show signs of withdrawal. This includes unexpected weight loss, poor feeding, and more crying than normal. Your baby may also have a fever, throw up, and have diarrhea. He may also have learning problems or other health issues when he gets older. If you have a baby and are using narcotics, you may have trouble caring for your baby. Narcotics may be passed to your baby through breast milk. Talk to your caregiver before breastfeeding your baby if you are using narcotics.

How will I know if my child is abusing narcotics?

You may see 1 or more of the following signs and symptoms if your child is using narcotics:

  • Your child's grades go down or he is absent from school a lot. You may also have trouble trying to discipline your child.
  • Your child may begin to borrow money from parents, siblings, or friends. He may also begin to steal small items.
  • Your child may begin to wear sunglasses a lot, even at night. He may also wear long-sleeved shirts even when it is hot.
  • Your child may stop taking care of his hair and clothes. He may begin to look sloppy.
  • Your child may suddenly get secretive about his activities. He may also want to keep you from going in his room or going through his things.
  • Your child's attitude may change. He may change from being helpful and upbeat most of the time to being angry and depressed.
  • Your child's friends may change. His new friends may be known as drug users.

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 contact my caregiver?

Contact your caregiver if:

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

When should I seek immediate care?

Seek care immediately or call 911 if:

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

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.

© 2015 Truven Health Analytics Inc. Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotes® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or Truven Health Analytics.