narcotics on a table

Narcotics Addiction: Side Effects, Detox, Withdrawal, and Treatment

narcotics on a table

What Are Narcotics?

Narcotics, or prescription opioids, are a class of drugs that are made with naturally-derived opioids (found in the opium poppy plant) and synthetic opioids, which are created in a lab. Narcotics are prescribed by doctors to treat moderate to severe pain, although sometimes they can also be used to treat diarrhea or for cough suppression.

Narcotics come in various forms and can be tablets, capsules, patches, powder, liquid, syrups, or lollipops. Some of the most common narcotics, or prescription painkillers, include:

Narcotics are highly effective for treating pain because they bind to opioid receptors in the brain and body and activate them. In doing so, they block pain signals sent from the brain to the body and send out a rush of dopamine, which produces feelings of relaxation and pleasure.

Not surprisingly, narcotics are extremely addictive and the “high” they produce makes people want to continue using the drugs over and over, even without a medical purpose.

People who misuse narcotics for recreational purposes typically do so by:

  • Crushing the pills, opening the capsules and dissolving the powder in water before injecting it into a vein
  • Snorting the powdered pills
  • Taking a dose that is larger than what the doctor prescribed
  • Taking someone else’s prescription opioids
  • Taking prescription opioids just to get high

Although narcotics are generally considered safe to use when prescribed for a short time, it’s very easy to become addicted to them and extremely difficult to stop using them once you’re addicted.

Are Narcotics Addictive?

Yes, narcotics are highly addictive and physical dependence can develop very quickly. According to the 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), 3.6 percent of the American population misused prescription pain relievers and more than half of the people who reported misusing pain relievers in the past year got them from a friend or relative.1

In the United States, most drug overdose deaths are a direct result of opioid abuse, particularly synthetic opioids like fentanyl. In 2018, 128 people died every day after overdosing on opioids and there were 70,980 drug overdose deaths in the United States in 2019, 50,042 of which involved opioids.2,3

Recent Statistics About Narcotic Abuse and Addiction

  • 21 to 29 percent of people who are prescribed opioids for chronic pain misuse them and between 8 and 12 percent develop an opioid addiction.4
  • About 4 to 6 percent of people who abuse narcotics eventually transition to heroin.5
  • About 80 percent of people who use heroin abused narcotics first.5

What are Some Slang Terms for Narcotics?

According to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), some common street names or slang terms for narcotics include:6

  • Big H
  • Black Tat
  • Brown Sugar
  • Dover’s Powder
  • Hillbilly Heroin
  • Horse
  • Junk
  • Lean
  • Mud
  • MPTP (New Heroin)
  • OC
  • Ox
  • Oxy
  • Oxycotton
  • Paregoric
  • Purple Drank
  • Sippin Syrup
  • Smack
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What Are the Side Effects of Abusing Narcotics?

Prescription opioid drugs can produce several unpleasant and unwanted side effects. Common side effects of narcotics include:6

  • Slowed physical activity
  • Constipation
  • Nausea
  • Flushing of the face and neck
  • Vomiting
  • Constricted pupils
  • Slowed breathing

Long-term abuse of narcotics can cause people to develop a severe tolerance for the drugs, which means they will need a higher or more frequent dose to get the same effects. This greatly increases the risk of overdose and death.

What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Narcotic Abuse and Addiction?

If you believe a loved one is abusing narcotics, he or she may display some behavioral signs. Common signs of narcotic abuse may include:7

  • Excessive mood swings
  • Taking prescription opioids without a medical purpose
  • Taking more than the prescribed dose
  • Borrowing narcotics from other people
  • “Doctor shopping” to get several prescriptions for opioids
  • Poor decision-making
  • Drastic changes in sleeping habits

Signs of narcotic addiction often include:

  • Being unable to control narcotic use
  • Experiencing strong cravings for prescription opioids
  • Having problems at work, school, or home because of narcotic abuse
  • Experiencing uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms when the side effects of the opioids wear off
  • Needing more narcotics to achieve the same effects (developing a tolerance)
  • Continuing to use narcotics despite the negative side effects

What Are the Withdrawal Symptoms of Narcotics?

Someone who has developed an addiction to narcotics will experience uncomfortable physical and psychological symptoms when they cut back or stop taking the drugs. This is called withdrawal. Common withdrawal symptoms of narcotics are:6

  • Watery eyes
  • Runny nose
  • Yawning
  • Excessive sweating
  • Loss of appetite
  • Restlessness
  • Nausea
  • Irritability
  • Muscle aches
  • Tremors
  • Cravings
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Insomnia
  • Vomiting
  • Increased heart rate
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Chills

These withdrawal symptoms will eventually run their course and dissipate, but depending on the severity of a person’s opioid addiction, they can be very uncomfortable and unmanageable without professional help.

Can You Just Stop Using Narcotics Cold Turkey?

The brain grows accustomed to the constant presence of opioids, so by quitting cold turkey, a person is essentially cutting off its supply very abruptly. This can throw the body into chaos, causing seizures, irregular heart rhythms, and other serious withdrawal symptoms. Quitting opioids cold turkey may also result in longer-lasting withdrawal symptoms, which can increase a person’s risk of relapse and overdose.

Is Professional Treatment for Narcotic Addiction and Withdrawal Necessary?

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, willpower alone is rarely enough to conquer an addiction.8 Additionally, the withdrawal symptoms associated with opiate withdrawal symptoms can be excruciating, and the vast majority of those who try to detox without professional intervention will quickly turn back to drugs to make the pain stop.

The best and safest way to quit narcotics is to gradually taper off of them with the help of experienced professionals. A medical detox program for prescription opioids can provide individualized medical and clinical care to make withdrawal as comfortable and safe as possible. 

During detox, clients receive round-the-clock medical treatment and monitoring to make sure their vitals remain healthy and they are as comfortable as possible. Various medications are administered as needed to alleviate the intensity of withdrawal symptoms. In many cases, medications like methadone and Suboxone, which stave off withdrawal symptoms and cravings without producing the euphoric effects of opiates, are used to help wean addicted individuals off of the drug of abuse. Managing an opiate addiction in this way enables detox patients to work on restoring their life and addressing the various underlying issues without distraction.

Detox clients also meet one-on-one with a clinical counselor to address psychological withdrawal symptoms such as depression or mood swings and group therapy is available for clients who feel well enough to attend.

After detox, clients receive professional referrals and recommendations for ongoing care at an inpatient or outpatient addiction treatment center. This type of ongoing treatment will greatly reduce the client’s likelihood of relapsing and provide critical behavioral therapy, life skills, and peer support for sustained sobriety.

Beating an addiction to opiates may seem like an insurmountable task, but treatment is designed to make withdrawal and treatment as pain-free as possible. A high-quality treatment center will offer a holistic approach to treatment that includes both traditional and alternative therapeutic approaches that address issues of the mind, body, and spirit for overall wellness and successful healing from an addiction. In most cases, taking the first step toward treatment is the hardest part of recovery.

How Long Does it Take for Narcotics to Get Out Of Your System?

Narcotics Withdrawal Timeline
6-12 hours after the last doseEarly symptoms of withdrawal from short-acting opiates will appear and may include muscle aches, insomnia, and anxiety.
1-2 days after the last doseEarly symptoms of withdrawal from long-acting opiates will appear and may include muscle aches, insomnia, and anxiety.
3 days after the last doseOpioid withdrawal symptoms tend to peak at this point and usually include nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps, depression, diarrhea, goosebumps, and cravings.
5-7 days after the last doseMost symptoms will have dissipated by this point, but some people may still experience lingering nausea, cravings, anxiety, and loss of appetite.
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How Can I Get Off Narcotics?

Deciding to get sober is a courageous choice because it is never easy. However, the easiest way to get off narcotics is with medical and clinical assistance through a medical detox program.

Coping with the physical and emotional side effects of withdrawal can be very difficult without help, but a detox program can provide medication-assisted treatment, clinical counseling, and referrals for ongoing care so clients can sustain their sobriety long-term.

After detox, finding the right addiction treatment program can ensure continued success in recovery. Reputable drug rehab centers use evidence-based and research-based therapies to help people recover from substance use disorders, such as:

  • Individual drug counseling
  • Group therapy
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy
  • Contingency management
  • 12-Step facilitation therapy
  • Family behavior therapy
  • Rational emotive behavioral therapy
  • Specialized therapies like art therapy, music therapy, or pet therapy

Inpatient Drug Rehab vs. Outpatient Drug Rehab for Narcotic Addiction

During residential rehab, clients:

  • Temporarily live on-site at the rehab center while they complete their treatment program.
  • Commit to upholding the rules and standards of the program.
  • Follow a scheduled daily routine, including individual therapy, group therapy, other therapeutic interventions, and social activities.
  • Have limited access to friends and family members outside of rehab.

During outpatient rehab, clients:

  • Regularly attend addiction treatment sessions at a local clinical location or online.
  • May continue to go to work, school, or sustain daily responsibilities at home while they complete the outpatient rehab program.
  • Complete any assignments and/or required reading independently.
  • Attend local recovery support group meetings, such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or SMART Recovery.

Depending on the type of rehab program a person chooses, its amenities, location, and the services that are offered, the cost of rehab may vary greatly. Fortunately, most addiction treatment centers accept health insurance as a form of payment. If you have insurance, it will likely cover a portion of the cost.

Aside from using your health insurance benefits to pay for rehab, other payment options for drug rehab may include:

What Are Continued Care Options for Narcotic Addiction?

After completing a detox and rehab program, many people find that they need additional support to adjust to independent sober life and others may not have a safe or sober home to return to after treatment. Sober living homes and aftercare meet the needs of many people in recovery to help them sustain a healthy and sober lifestyle after rehab.

Sober Living Programs

Sober living programs provide safe and structured sober housing for men and women in recovery. These homes are gender-specific and also provide many recovery support services, such as:

  • Regular drug and alcohol testing
  • Certified peer recovery support
  • Individualized recovery programming
  • Employment assistance
  • Volunteer placement
  • Educational planning
  • Access to IOP and clinical care services

Depending on the location, amenities, and services offered, the cost of a sober living home will vary, but rent is generally from residents collected monthly. Many sober living homes also offer referrals for clinical therapy through a third-party company to help residents manage mental health problems or co-occurring disorders like anxiety, depression, or PTSD.

Aftercare Programs

Aftercare programs are intended to support people who have recently completed an addiction treatment program but want additional support with weekly group meetings. Aftercare groups offer regular meetings at a clinical location with licensed addiction treatment professionals leading the discussion.

Group members are encouraged to participate in discussions related to addiction and recovery as well as current struggles and challenges clients may be facing. Aftercare provides essential peer support that offers ongoing accountability and resources to help clients sustain their sobriety despite any challenges life circumstances they may currently be facing.

If you or a loved one is addicted to narcotics, get help today to change your life. Call (512) 605-2955 to speak with an admissions representative at Nova Recovery Center.


  1. https://www.samhsa.gov/data/sites/default/files/cbhsq-reports/NSDUHNationalFindingsReport2018/NSDUHNationalFindingsReport2018.pdf
  2. https://www.drugabuse.gov/drug-topics/opioids/opioid-overdose-crisis
  3. https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/nvss/vsrr/drug-overdose-data.htm
  4. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25785523/
  5. https://www.samhsa.gov/data/sites/default/files/DR006/DR006/nonmedical-pain-reliever-use-2013.htm
  6. https://www.dea.gov/sites/default/files/2020-06/Narcotics-2020.pdf
  7. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/prescription-drug-abuse/in-depth/how-to-tell-if-a-loved-one-is-abusing-opioids/art-20386038
  8. http://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/understanding-drug-abuse-addiction 

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