Opioids include medication prescribed by a doctor for mild to severe pain relief and the illegal opioid heroin. Opioid addiction is characterized by an intense craving to use opioids, despite the negative consequences of such use.
If you suspect you are struggling with an addiction to opioids, you may take the following self-test and explore the following risk factors and signs associated with opioid addiction. It is essential to reach out to a mental health professional immediately if you believe you or a loved one suffers from addiction.
An opioid is a drug naturally found in the opium poppy plant. Opioids come in many forms and produce various effects on the brain, including pain relief. Prescription opioids treat moderate to severe pain. 1 They can treat chronic headaches and backaches, severe pain associated with surgery or cancer, and pain from sports injuries, auto accidents, or other incidents. 2
Opioids treat pain by blocking pain signals between the brain and body. 1 They attach to proteins called opioid receptors on nerve cells in the brain, spinal cord, gut, and other areas of the body. The opioids block the pain messages sent through the spinal cord to the brain. 2
Some people may use opioids recreationally to make the individual feel relaxed and happy. Opioids can be highly addictive, whether they are used recreationally or as prescribed, but especially when used for a long time in either case. 1
Opioids are sometimes referred to as narcotics. While opioids are pain-relieving drugs, they are not the same category as over-the-counter painkillers like Advil and Tylenol. Opioids often fall into three categories. 1
Opioids are chemically related to opioid receptors on the nerve cells in the brain and interact with these receptors and the nervous system to produce pleasurable effects to the individual and relieve pain. 4
Opioid addiction occurs when the individual becomes so attracted to the feelings produced by the drug that it hijacks their reward system and causes them to prioritize the reward and relief from the substance over any other activity. Addiction is a primary, chronic, and relapsing brain disease. 4
Opioid addiction can cause severe health, social, and financial problems. It is characterized by a powerful and compulsive urge to use opioids even when they are no longer medically required or when their use has begun to create problems. 5
Opioids are highly addictive in some individuals, even when medically prescribed and taken as directed. Prescription opioids are often misused by the individual prescribed to them or by friends or family members. 5
Individuals addicted to opioids often prioritize getting and using this type of substance over any other activity. They often neglect professional and personal relationships, creating problems in these areas.5
Opioids change the brain’s chemistry and produce a tolerance, causing the individual to need higher doses of the drug more frequently to experience the same effect they once did. Taking this type of substance for a long time also produces dependence. Dependence means that once an individual stops taking the drug, they experience physical and psychological withdrawal symptoms, including muscle cramps, diarrhea, and extreme anxiety. 5
It is important to note that dependence is not the same as addiction. Everyone who takes opioids for an extended period will eventually become dependent upon the drug, but only a tiny percentage of these individuals will also experience addiction to the drug. Addiction is the compulsive and chronic need for opioids. 5
Addiction to opioids can create life-threatening health problems, including an increased risk of overdose. An overdose occurs when an individual takes high doses of opioids which causes their breathing to slow or stop. Overdose ultimately leads to unconsciousness and death if the overdose is not immediately treated. Legal and illegal opioids can lead to an overdose if the individual takes too much or combines them with other drugs like benzodiazepines. 5
Someone is most likely to become addicted to opioids when using methods of opioid use different than as prescribed, such as crushing a pill to snort or inject it or using illegal forms of opioids, such as heroin. Taking an opioid more often than prescribed or in higher doses than prescribed can also increase the risk of addiction.8
The length of time an opioid is used also plays a role in increasing the risk of addiction. Taking opioids for more than a few days can increase the risk of long-term use, increasing the risk of addiction. After only five days of opioid use, the odds of continuing use for at least a year increases.8
Additional risk factors for opioid addiction include genetic, psychological, and environmental factors. These create a risk for addiction to occur quickly or after many years of opioid use. 8
If someone exhibits any of these signs, it is crucial to call 911 immediately.
If you suspect that you or a loved one is suffering from opioid addiction, it is vital to seek treatment from a professional right away.
There are a variety of treatment options available for opioid addiction. Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) is the primary treatment used for prescription opioid addiction is medication-assisted treatment (MAT). This type of treatment includes a combination of medication, counseling, and support from family and friends. It can help stop drug use, reduce withdrawal symptoms, and reduce future cravings. 10
Some of the effective medications used in MAT include buprenorphine (Suboxone, Subutex), methadone, and extended-release naltrexone (Vivitrol). Buprenorphine and methadone are considered “essential medicines” by the World Health Organization. These medications should be combined with behavioral counseling for a “whole patient” approach.11
MAT is an effective treatment method, as it decreases opioid use, opioid-related deaths, criminal activity, and infectious disease transmission. It also increases social functioning and retention. Individuals treated with medication are more likely to continue with therapy than those who do not receive medication as a part of their treatment plan.11
MAT is also effective for the treatment of opioid-dependent pregnant women. Methadone or buprenorphine treatment improves outcomes for their babies, as MAT reduces the symptoms of neonatal abstinence syndrome and length of hospital stay. 11
Researchers are exploring ways the healthcare system can reach more individuals in need of opioid addiction treatment. They are also looking for ways to help providers understand which treatments are most effective for patients. 11
Researchers are also working to identify the most effective ways to improve evidence-based prevention and treatment services for young people. The Juvenile Justice Translational Research on Interventions for Adolescents in the Legal System (JJ-TRIALS) is the initiative for this research. 11