Opioid addiction is a chronic and complex disease that can cause significant health, social and financial problems. Addiction is characterized by an excessive and compulsive urge to use the substance, and many people encounter opioid addiction when prescribed painkillers for injuries or post-surgery pain management.
Even when used appropriately and taken as directed, opioid painkillers can lead to a substance use disorder in many patients, causing them to prioritize these drugs over other aspects of their lives.
While it may be a complicated affliction, opiate addiction is highly treatable through medication and therapy at residential and outpatient centers. We’ll look into the symptoms and possible causes of addiction while providing treatment options if you or someone you love is struggling with opiate addiction.
Opiates are a class of drugs naturally found in the poppy plant that produce various brain effects, including feelings of pleasure and pain relief in the body. Opioids include these natural opiates as well as synthetic opioid drugs. Healthcare providers legally prescribe some opioids for moderate, severe and chronic pain management. Other opioids are illegal, such as heroin.
Sometimes referred to as narcotics, opioids work by blocking pain receptors in the central nervous system. Common prescription opioids include hydrocodone, brand name Vicodin, and oxycodone, brand name Oxycontin or Percocet. Others include:
Although opioids relieve pain, they don’t fall into the same category as over-the-counter painkillers like nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and acetaminophen. These over-the-counter medicines like Tylenol, aspirin and ibuprofen treat pain from headaches, arthritis and other conditions. In contrast, prescription opioids provide more potent relief from severe pain.
In addition to pain management, opioids can make people feel a powerful sense of well-being. When the opioid dosage wears off, some might want those feelings to return. For this reason, opioids can become addictive.
Additional side effects might include nausea, confusion, drowsiness, slowed breathing and constipation. Opioids can cause respiratory depression — lowering or even stopping your breathing — which can worsen if you’ve never taken opioids or you take them with another drug. Opioids can also interact with food and certain diseases, so it’s essential that they’re only used to treat pain if alternatives are ineffective.
Anyone prescribed opioids to manage pain relief should carefully follow their doctor’s orders and avoid misusing them. Individuals can become addicted and prioritize getting the drug over other activities, negatively impacting their personal and professional relationships.
Anyone can become physically dependent on opioids, which is first evident with withdrawal symptoms such as cravings and sweating. Others can misuse prescription opioids and not develop physical dependence symptoms, though it’s unknown why some people are more susceptible to opioid use disorder than others.
Addiction often occurs in these five stages:
While a person with opioid use disorder might not display symptoms right away, they may eventually show signs of needing help, such as:
Opioid use disorder can cause fatigue, drowsiness and restlessness, making it difficult for addicted individuals to maintain restful sleep or stay awake. But how does this happen? Drugs cause direct or indirect stimulation of the neurochemical dopamine, so it’s understood that opioids modulate alertness and negatively alter the sleep-wake cycle.
An addicted person might oversleep, take frequent naps or doze off at random moments. When awake, they might seem lazy or in need of caffeine. Watch for these signs to determine whether someone is struggling with opioid use disorder.
Opioids are known to lower a person’s metabolism. For this reason, those addicted to opioids usually don’t have much of an appetite. You might notice a person eating very little or skipping meals altogether when suffering from addiction. Lack of nourishment will result in rapid weight loss.
You can note any problems by checking if the addicted person’s clothes get baggier or if their hair starts thinning from nutritional deficiency.
As stated, opioid use disorder can cause fatigue and sluggishness. Watch for exhausted behavior that interrupts the person’s daily routines like hygiene or exercise. Many people struggling with substance use disorders lack the energy to do everyday tasks like going to work, hitting the gym or bathing themselves.
Take note of any physical changes in your loved one’s appearance. Perhaps they’re wearing the same clothes for days on end, their hair is knotted, or their facial hair is unshaven. And, of course, body odor from not bathing is a significant red flag.
One of the more apparent signs of opioid addiction occurs when individuals isolate themselves from friends and family members.
Excessive drug use can result in agitation and irritability, while the addicted person might lash out and blame others for their problems. This can create a rift between themselves and their loved ones as they struggle to sustain their addiction.
When addicted individuals can no longer get their supply from doctors, they often turn to the black market. You’ll notice financial difficulties if the person starts withdrawing large sums of cash to score drugs or steals money from friends and family. They might even sell their prized belongings to feed their addiction.
If possible, watch for changes in the person’s bank accounts or credit card statements and flag any unexplained purchases.
Opiate dependence destroys lives. Get the support you need to help yourself or your loved one break free of an addiction to opiates.
Whether from illicit or prescription drugs, 3 million people suffer from opioid addiction in the U.S. Anyone who takes opioids is at risk of developing an addiction. While personal history and the length of time you take opioids play a role, it’s unknown why some are more prone to substance use disorder than others. The risk of addiction seems to increase when paired with certain genetic, psychological and environmental factors:
Opioids become more addictive when you take them using methods different from how they were prescribed. Some might crush, snort or inject their pills to achieve a greater high, which can cause life-threatening issues if the opioid is a prolonged or extended-use formula.
An extended-use medication is one with effects that are felt gradually rather than instantly. Many prescription painkillers are extended use to avoid addiction. However, when taken with alcohol or ingested differently than prescribed, they can become deadly by causing a phenomenon called dose dumping.
Dose dumping occurs when drugs enter your system rapidly or at once, increasing their potency and the risk of overdose. Taking more opioids than the dose prescribed or for more than just a few days can also increase your risk of addiction.
Personal history can play a huge role in addiction development. For instance, young age and a history of legal problems such as driving under the influence (DUI) can increase the likelihood of substance use disorder. Teens and young adults might be more prone to experiment with drugs or idolize those who misuse drugs and alcohol.
Additionally, heavy tobacco use or prior drug and alcohol rehabilitation can increase people’s likelihood of becoming addicted to opioids. And those who engage in risk-taking or thrill-seeking behavior might chase a similar high by taking opioids and unintentionally succumbing to opioid addiction.
A history of severe depression and anxiety can cause a person to turn to opioids for relief. Studies show that half the people who experience mental illness during their lives will also experience substance use disorder and vice versa. Examples of mental issues that occur at a high prevalence with substance use disorder include:
As previously stated, drug use tends to appear in early adolescence. Those transitioning from childhood to adulthood need help to navigate stressful changes in work, education and relationships. If the person doesn’t receive care and attention during this vulnerable stage, they’re more likely to turn to drugs to cope.
Several environmental changes can cause people to turn to opioids. Stressful situations such as a death in the family or a loss of a job, for instance, cause our bodies to release stress hormones. These hormones can trigger epigenetic alteration, or changes to our genes. One of the systems in our bodies affected by stress hormones is the brain’s reward circuitry. The interaction with stress hormones and this system is associated with addiction development and stress-induced relapse in recovery.
These environmental and genetic factors can lead to addiction issues appearing at any time throughout one’s life. Risk factors can also include poverty, regular contact with high-risk people or situations, and experiencing an injury or chronic pain.
Opioid use disorder is an ongoing epidemic that affects those with addiction and the people in their lives. Friends and family members of addicted individuals might not notice the symptoms right away and struggle to help their loved ones combat the disease.
Opioid use can cause addiction at any moment, whether prescribed for short-term or long-term use. Effects can become more extreme as the body adapts to the presence of opioids, and higher dosages are required to get the same initial results. Here are some of the effects of opiate addiction:
Some of the more short term symptoms of opioid abuse include:
These symptoms can worsen when taking opioids with multiple substances like other depressants or alcohol, and they’ll continue if individuals fall into a pattern of misuse.
Mental health affects our daily lives, relationships and even our physical health. However, this can work in the opposite direction — life factors, physical conditions and interpersonal connections can cause mental health disruptions.
Many turn to opioids to help combat mental illnesses such as anxiety or depression for the drugs’ initial feel-good effects. However, extended opioid misuse can trigger symptoms of mental illness and has been linked to higher rates of anxiety, depression and bipolar disorders. This can create a complex cycle for those with comorbid diseases.
In a study conducted at St. Louis University, researchers discovered that 10% of 10,000 patients prescribed opioids developed depression from using the medication after taking it for just one month. These patients took the opiates for back pain, arthritis and other ailments and hadn’t received a depression diagnosis before treatment. In other words, the more prolonged opioid use continues, the more likely patients will experience depression.
And when taking opioids while struggling with depression, individuals can experience worsening depressive symptoms such as:
Like depression, opioid use disorder can cause people to distance themselves from friends and loved ones. If a person struggling with depression turns to opioids, the isolation can profoundly affect their condition as it becomes more difficult to lean on others in times of need.
Our bodies’ central nervous system is in charge of heart rate, breathing and other essential bodily functions. Since opioids work by depressing the central nervous system, functions and movements can become slower in the short term. Taking more opioids than the prescribed amount can prevent the heart and lungs from functioning properly and cause individuals to choke or fall into a coma from a depressed respiratory system.
When opioids are taken with sedating substances like alcohol and other depressants, the suppression of the central nervous system is elevated, which can cause an intensity of side effects like drowsiness, depressed respiratory function and sedation. An overly depressed central nervous system can also cause slowed breathing that can stop altogether and brain damage due to a reduced amount of oxygen reaching the brain.
With prolonged use, opioid withdrawal symptoms can occur when attempting to reduce or stop opioid use. Since the body develops a physical dependence on the drug, the brain stops producing effects on its own when the drug is taken away. This sudden reduction requires the brain to readjust, which can result in uncomfortable symptoms, including the following:
Withdrawal effects can be severe depending on the duration and intensity of the addiction, with some acute withdrawal symptoms continuing for years. As the first step to recovery, most treatment centers provide medically-assisted detox and treatment for patients to readjust comfortably. Medicines such as Suboxone or Vivitrol can reduce the painful and uncomfortable symptoms associated with withdrawal.
Overdose is one of the most dangerous effects of opiate use disorder that kills more than 136 Americans every day. Sadly, overdose can occur at any stage of opioid addiction, whether accidentally or from ongoing misuse of the drug.
Overdose can result from patients taking too much of the substance at any given time. However, the risk of overdose is more significant when patients combine multiple depressants, such as benzodiazepines or alcohol, whether intentionally or accidentally. This combination can make the effects of opioids much more intense by increasing the level of narcotics in the body while elevating uncomfortable side effects.
Many are unaware of the risk caused by taking painkillers with alcohol, which increases when alcohol is ingested with opioids or within two hours of dosage. In 2017, heroin and synthetic opioids contributed to the highest rate of alcohol-induced overdoses in the U.S.
Symptoms of overdose include:
It’s essential to seek emergency health care services immediately if you or someone you know experiences these symptoms. An overdose can lead to a coma or even death if left untreated.
The effects of opiate addiction can result in overdose or coma and even lead to death. Because doctors are aware of opioid risks, it can be difficult for patients to acquire an increased dose or renew their prescriptions.
Patients who develop physical dependence may turn to illegally obtained opioids like heroin to increase their supply. One study found that 94% of people who used heroin did so for its high availability and low cost.
Another illegally obtained drug, fentanyl, is a synthetic opioid up to 100 times stronger than morphine. Since they’re so potent and can also contain contaminants, illicit drugs contribute to many opioid deaths.
Overcoming a substance use disorder is hard, but you don’t have to struggle alone. Find supportive, evidence-based treatment at Gateway Foundation.
While it can be tempting to avoid opiate treatment because of the relief these substances can provide, it’s essential to remember that opioids can cause long-term withdrawal symptoms, social isolation and an increased risk of coma, overdose and death.
Early treatment can help prevent some of the changes associated with long-term opioid use. It might be a long process, but the care you receive can improve your chances of recovery success.
Before you receive treatment, professionals will assess the level of care you need and determine whether outpatient or inpatient programs are best for you. Whether you live in a residential center or receive care at set times, the goal of opiate addiction treatment is to help you reach successful sobriety and improve your quality of life.
In treatment, you’ll receive a custom plan that might involve:
Depending on the type of drug, opioid withdrawal symptoms can last for weeks with some physical and mental symptoms, such as diarrhea, irritability, stomach pain, chills, cravings and nausea, lingering for even longer.
Most individuals addicted to opioids will do anything to avoid withdrawal, which is why further substance misuse and relapse occur. Using medication to transition from physical dependence is necessary for most patients who enter inpatient or outpatient treatment.
Common medication used to treat opioid addiction includes:
While medications lessen opioid withdrawal symptoms and can prevent further misuse, cravings can be challenging to overcome without other treatment. Patients have a better chance of success when their addiction is addressed both medically and professionally.
Your chances of reaching and maintaining sobriety increase with long-term care programs that involve medication and behavioral therapy, otherwise known as medication-assisted treatment (MAT). MAT is an all-encompassing program that uses a broad recovery approach to avoid relapse and improve patients’ overall well-being.
Qualified health professionals will help patients deal with personal and social problems that can lead to addiction or make it worse. Treatment programs might involve:
Don’t let your addiction continue to poison your life. Start your recovery journey today.
If you or a loved one is suffering from this disease, know that you’re not alone. Various treatment options are beneficial to those with opiate addiction. One of the most advantageous routes for recovery is through treatment centers.
An opiate addiction treatment center can provide the tools and resources people experiencing substance use disorders need to overcome the disease and avoid relapse. Let’s look into the benefits of substance abuse treatment:
If you suffer from opioid use disorder, having a support system and a feeling of belonging is essential to overcome it. Treatment centers provide a community of staff, counselors and fellow peers dealing with substance use disorder. It’s critical to have people around you who understand the struggle of addiction so you have someone to lean on and trust in times of need.
Individuals addicted to opiates can attend support groups where they can discuss their recovery process, setbacks and successes along the way. You’ll form strong bonds and genuine friendships among a group of people who identify with your issues. At the same time, you’ll support and help one another overcome addiction.
While it’s critical to have a community that understands what you’re going through, it’s equally effective to have people who can hold you accountable throughout the process. Attending daily therapy sessions or support groups means you’ll have someone checking up on your needs while providing a non-judgmental approach to your recovery.
Counselors and peers will offer help and hope through difficult times and hold you accountable to make the necessary life changes to overcome addiction. This might include setting goals and customizing a self-help plan with doctors or discussing your aspirations and means to achieve them among your peers.
Having people around you to help you achieve sobriety will make you less likely to relapse, and you’ll have peace of mind knowing there’s always someone waiting to hear from you.
A chaotic lifestyle is commonplace for people addicted to opioids. And when seeking help, the changes that come from the recovery process can seem overwhelming to navigate. One of the main benefits of going to an opiate addiction treatment center is the structure they provide. Having a set structure can get you in a better mindset to overcome addiction, but it will also help you deal with the life changes brought on by your newfound healthy lifestyle.
The structure of treatment centers encourages routine to overcome addiction. They’ll emphasize daily structure while you fill your sobriety toolbox with healthy and productive activities. You’ll attend therapy and treatment sessions to help break down the self-destructive tendencies caused by addiction and invite much-needed organization into your life.
The structure will also help you maintain sobriety and form new healthy habits to take with you when treatment is over.
When you’re recovering from addiction, treatment centers can help you focus on your overall physical and mental health. Abusing substances can cause your body to lose nutrients, bringing on weakness and exhaustion that make it difficult to sleep and perform essential tasks.
When your body goes through these changes, you’re more likely to use drugs again if you neglect your mental and physical health. Treatment centers provide nutritious meals to help you recover and improve your mood while curbing drug cravings.
Some opioid addiction treatment centers encourage recreational activities such as exercise, music therapy, yoga or hiking. You’ll work on strengthening your body, mind and spirit with the goal of continuing these healthy habits post-treatment.
Your health will improve, but your self-esteem will also increase as you notice the positive changes you’ve built by partaking in new activities.
We’ll now answer some of the most common questions we receive about opiate addiction treatment:
Individuals with opioid use disorder should receive help as soon as possible. However, they will need to want to participate in treatment. It can be difficult for friends and family members to accept that their loved one doesn’t want help, and it can require a lot of patience until they’re ready.
Some patients will need to undergo treatment several times to beat addiction. Environmental factors and family and friends can play an important role.
And since mental illness and substance abuse often co-occur, it’s essential to treat these conditions together for treatment to work.
Medical professionals at Gateway Foundation can recommend and administer medications such as Vivitrol or Suboxone to help you through the recovery process. While not a substitute for long-term treatment, these medicines can help patients achieve milder withdrawal symptoms and safely taper down the opioids in their system.
Opioid use disorder can interrupt your life and cause long-term side effects if neglected. While complex and chronic, opioid addiction is highly treatable. If you or someone you love is struggling with opioid use disorder, treatment centers can help break the cycle of addiction.
At Gateway Foundation, we are with you for life. Our treatment center fosters an environment of compassion, discretion and professionalism to get your life back on track. We believe successful treatment should always be addressed medically and professionally, and we design custom programs to provide you with the care you deserve.
Our all-encompassing addiction treatment programs are designed to help you safely and comfortably navigate the path to a healthier life. With our outpatient care program, you can enjoy the versatility and accessibility of receiving care while surrounded by friends and family.
To learn more about our treatment services, get in touch with us today.
Explore the latest news and resources from Gateway’s thought leaders, clinicians and alumni.