Opioid Addiction Information

What are Opioids?

Opioids are a type of pain relief medication usually prescribed for patients suffering severe and chronic pain from such sources as1:

  • Injuries

  • Surgery

  • Dental procedures

  • Cancer

Opioid medications work by binding to chemical receptors in the brain that are responsible for pain sensitivity.2

Some prescriptions for common illnesses such as a cough also contain opiates such as Codeine.

Prescription opiates can be safe to use, but only when used as prescribed. If a patient does not strictly follow their doctor’s instructions, they may misuse opioids, which can quickly lead to dependence and addiction.

Dependence and addiction also occur when opioids are used illegally. Heroin and Fentanyl are commonly misused opioid drugs that are bought and consumed illegally.

The following opioids have a high potential for abuse:

  • Opium

  • Heroin

  • Fentanyl

  • Codeine

  • Tramadol

  • Oxycodone

  • Hydrocodone

  • Morphine

  • Methadone

Opioid Addiction Statistics

Opioid use is a growing problem in the US and across the globe. In 2018 alone3:

  • Over 130 people died every day from opioid related drug overdoses

  • 2 million people had an opioid use disorder

  • 10.3 million people misused prescription opioids

  • 808,000 people used heroin

Opioid addiction is a public health crisis4 with tragic consequences. Opioids are often overprescribed and misused. Once a person has developed a dependency, they are seriously unlikely to stop using just because their prescription has ended. Some turn to street drugs like heroin and fentanyl to get their opiate fix, which leads to a range of personal, social, financial, and legal problems.

What is Opioid Addiction?

Addiction is a progressive disease that impacts brain health and influences behavior. All forms of addiction are destructive, but opioid addiction is one of the most damaging, both to the individual’s quality of life and the emotional and psychological well-being of their loved ones.

An opioid addiction occurs after a person has become dependent on opiates for normal functioning. Because opiates are naturally highly addictive, it does not take long for a dependence to develop.

Opioid use alters the chemical balance of the brain and creates a physical dependence. Tolerance builds quickly, meaning that more of the chosen opiate is required to achieve the same effects.

When a person has been taking opioids for a long time, or has been misusing them, they will face severe withdrawal symptoms when trying to stop. The withdrawal symptoms associated with opioid drugs are one of the major contributing factors to continued use.

Withdrawal Symptoms

Those attempting to stop using opiates should not try to go cold turkey (stopping all of a sudden). Opioids have a strong hold over the brain and body once dependence has developed, and this creates extremely difficult withdrawal symptoms when use is discontinued. Withdrawal should be managed by a medical professional, who will monitor and supervise the affected individual through a detoxification and withdrawal period.

Opioid withdrawal symptoms include5:

  • Severe anxiety and panic

  • Restlessness

  • Insomnia

  • Body aches and pains

  • Profuse sweating

  • Diarrhea

  • Vomiting and nausea

  • Cramps

  • High blood pressure

  • Seizures

  • Hallucinations

  • Nightmares

  • Overwhelming urges and cravings

These symptoms can last for up to two weeks, which can feel like a lifetime to the person suffering.

Signs of Opioid Addiction

Opioid addiction poses a serious health risk. One of the greatest risk factors associated with opioid abuse is overdose, which occurs when too high a dose has been taken or the drug has been consumed at the same time as other drugs, such as alcohol or benzodiazepines. When this happens, breathing slows down drastically or stops altogether. This leads to unconsciousness or coma and death if treatment is not sought immediately.

As the person who has overdosed may not have enough time to call for help, it is important for family and loved ones to be aware of the signs of opioid abuse and addiction. This can give the affected individual a better chance of survival, because the signs will point to the need for monitoring. When we are aware that a loved one is abusing opioids, we are in a better position to help if the worst happens.

Noticing the signs can also help those abusing opiates become more aware of their behavior and seek the necessary help.

Signs and symptoms of opioid abuse include6:

  • Drowsiness

  • Slow breathing

  • Nausea

  • Constipation

  • Agitation and irritability

  • Slurred speech

  • Anxiety

  • Mood swings

  • Euphoria

  • Changes in sleep patterns

  • Depression

  • Social withdrawal

  • Sadness and tiredness

Signs of an opioid overdose include:

  • Vomiting

  • Loss of consciousness

  • Unresponsiveness

  • Irregular or stoppage of breathing

  • Constricted pupils

Opioid Addiction Recovery

Regardless of the circumstances, recovery from addiction is possible. Yet, it is by no means easy. Many get lost in opioid addiction, and some unfortunately do not come back, which highlights the importance of early Trauma-Informed Responsive Intervention™. At Heather R. Hayes & Associates, we are committed to actively helping anyone who comes to us for help, whether addiction has affected them or a loved one.

We specialize in Trauma-Informed Responsive Intervention™ and case management, which means we can allocate the most appropriate resources for you or your loved one to receive the necessary treatment. This involves finding an appropriate rehabilitation facility for residential care, facilitating outpatient treatment, and/or getting you or your loved one into a medically supervised detox and withdrawal program as soon as possible.

Addiction does not have to be dealt with alone. We are here to support families and loved ones throughout the entire recovery process.


1 “Prescription Opioids | Drug Overdose | CDC Injury Center”. Cdc.Gov, https://www.cdc.gov/drugoverdose/opioids/prescribed.html. Accessed 14 Oct 2020.

2 Rosenblum, Andrew et al. “Opioids and the treatment of chronic pain: controversies, current status, and future directions.” Experimental and clinical psychopharmacology vol. 16,5 (2008): 405-16. doi:10.1037/a0013628

3 Key Substance Use And Mental Health Indicators In The United States: Results From The 2018 National Survey On Drug Use And Health. U.S. Department Of Health And Human Services, 2019, https://www.samhsa.gov/data/sites/default/files/cbhsq-reports/NSDUHNationalFindingsReport2018/NSDUHNationalFindingsReport2018.pdf. Accessed 14 Oct 2020.

4 Azadfard M, Huecker MR, Leaming JM. Opioid Addiction. [Updated 2020 Aug 14]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2020 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK448203/

5 Kosten, Thomas R, and Tony P George. “The neurobiology of opioid dependence: implications for treatment.” Science & practice perspectives vol. 1,1 (2002): 13-20. doi:10.1151/spp021113

6 “Opioid Abuse: Statistics, Signs & Symptoms – When Seconds Count”. When Seconds Count | Anesthesia, Pain Management & Surgery, https://www.asahq.org/whensecondscount/pain-management/opioid-treatment/opioid-abuse/. Accessed 14 Oct 2020.

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