Opioid Addiction 101

In the United States, opioid abuse is quite common. According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 70% of drug overdose deaths in 2018 involved an opioid. Also, from 1999 to 2018, nearly 450,000 people have died because of overdosing on opioids, including heroin. Currently, an average of 128 people die every day in the US from opioid overdoses.

What are opioids?

OpioidsWhen they were first introduced, opioids were designed as medications for pain. When you use them strictly following your doctor’s advice, the drugs do not normally cause addiction. But they do have strong pain-relieving effects, so doctors usually prescribe them only for moderate to severe pain. Most of the time, opioids are used to relieve pain from the following:

  • Toothaches
  • Dental procedures
  • Surgeries
  • Cancer
  • Severe injuries

There are many different prescription opioids available today. Some of them are:

  • Fentanyl
  • Oxycodone
  • Methadone
  • Hydrocodone
  • Oxymorphone
  • Codeine
  • Morphine
  • Buprenorphine

Why are opioids addictive?

OpioidNormally, you would not get addicted to opioids if you use them as prescribed. But if, for example, you increase your dose without first talking to your doctor about it, you may get addicted eventually. The same will happen if you take the drugs beyond the time frame in your prescription.

In short, if you misuse the drug in any way, it would ultimately lead to an addiction.

If misused, opioids can produce pleasurable effects, which would lead you to crave more of them. As you keep taking the drugs, your brain chemistry changes. It develops a tolerance for the effects of the drugs. Eventually, you would need to take higher doses of the drugs to get the same effects.

If this cycle continues, addiction will soon take hold. You’ll find that you can no longer function normally without taking the drugs.

Later on, you will face the danger of overdose, which is often deadly.

If I take opioids following my doctor’s advice, can I still get addicted?

Normally, you won’t. But take note that opioids have a high potential to be addictive, especially if you need to use them long-term.

For most opioids, you’re safe if you take them for one week at most. The longer you take them, the higher your risk of developing an addiction. According to some studies, using opioids for over a month can make you dependent on them.

What’s the difference between tolerance and addiction?

Opioid AddictionTolerance is not the same as addiction. If you are tolerant to an opioid drug, it does not mean you’re addicted to it already. It just means that your brain is used to the effects of the drug and you have to take a higher dose to get the same effects as before. This is normal, and it happens to many people taking other medications.

Addiction happens when you have a strong urge to take more opioids, and you can no longer control it. These drug cravings would disturb your normal life. You would have less time to do important things as you spend more time taking the drugs and seeking more of them.

Your friends and family would also notice your new habits. Some of them would try to stop you, but the urge to take opioids would be too strong that you’d either ignore them or get mad at them.

What caused the huge numbers of opioid-related deaths in the US?

The opioid epidemic in the US came in three waves. The first wave happened in the 1990s, following a surge of opioid prescriptions in the country. Drug manufacturers aggressively marketed opioids to doctors, claiming that the drugs are not really addictive. But it turns out that they were, and opioid overdose deaths rose significantly from 1999 onwards.

The second wave hit in 2010, this time involving heroin, which is an illegal drug made from morphine.

Then, three years later, a third wave occurred due to synthetic opioids. In particular, illicit versions of fentanyl were responsible for the dramatic rise in deaths. Counterfeit opioids sold on the streets also contributed to the problem.

What are the signs of opioid addiction?

Opioid AbuseThe most familiar symptom to watch out for is an unusual craving for opioids. This often happens after the prescription has ended.

If your prescription has run out and you could not control the urge to take more opioids, your behavior would also change. For instance, you may find yourself going to the doctor presenting fake symptoms just to get more drugs.

Also, you could end up spending more and more time finding and taking the drugs. In turn, you would have much less time for your family, friends, work, and other responsibilities.

Once the people closest to you notice these shifts in behavior, it’s a clear sign that you are suffering from opioid addiction.

Aside from behavior changes, you may also experience these additional symptoms:

  • Poor coordination
  • Shallow or slow breathing
  • Difficulties in decision making
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Feeling agitated
  • Mood swings
  • Feeling high (euphoria)
  • Bouts of anxiety
  • Sleeping more or less than you normally would

What if I try to stop taking opioids altogether?

Quitting the drug cold turkey is not recommended. If you’re suffering from opioid addiction and suddenly stop taking the drugs one day, you will experience withdrawal symptoms. They vary from person to person, and they can be mild or severe, such as:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Sweating
  • Chills
  • Diarrhea
  • Shaking
  • Insomnia
  • Fatigue
  • Depression

When these symptoms become unbearable, you would have a stronger urge to take opioids again. For this reason, it’s best to seek professional help to get rid of this addiction.

Is there a cure for opioid addiction?

Yes, opioid addiction is treatable. Treatment methods are different for every patient, but the main goals are the same: to get you to stop using the drug and to prevent you from using it again in the future.

Treatments often involve medications that help relieve the withdrawal symptoms. That way, you can eventually live life normally with zero drug intake. These would also help take away your drug cravings.