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Opioid Addiction

Opioid Addiction

Definition

Opioids are a class of drugs made from opium, as well as synthetic or semi-synthetic drugs that resemble these opium-based drugs. Many opioids are available by prescription. Examples include oxycodone, codeine, morphine, and fentanyl. Heroin is an opioid that is illegal. These drugs are often referred to as narcotics.

Addiction is marked by an out-of-control need and craving that affects relationships and social obligations, such as work and school. Some medications have a higher risk of addiction. Even with proper use they are associated with alterations in the pathways in the brain. These pathways influence sense of reward and well-being which can influence addiction.

Opioid abuse is inappropriate use of opioids. It may include snorting pills, mixing with other drugs and alcohol, or using them for the wrong reasons (such as getting high or using pain medication for sleep). Opioid abuse may only develop because of addiction or the addiction may develop after abuse of an opioid.

Causes

Opioids produce a quick, intense feeling of pleasure (euphoria), followed by a sense of well-being and calm drowsiness. When opioids are used repeatedly, your brain is likely to become dependent on them. Opioids are highly addictive.

Other factors that may play a role in opioid addiction include:

  • Genetic factors
  • Altered pathways in brain caused by the addictive drug
  • Peer pressure and personality traits
Chemical Release in Brain
neurotransmitter
Opioids stimulate the release of “euphoric” chemicals in the brain. Over time, more of the drug is required to produce the same release, leading to abuse.
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Risk Factors

Opioid addiction is more common in males and people under 30 years old (risk of addiction decreases as age increases). Other factors that may increase your chance of opioid addiction include:

  • Improper use of medication (abuse)
  • Family history of drug addiction
  • Having anxiety, depression, loneliness, and a history of alcohol use disorder

Physical dependence may contribute to the development and continuance of addiction. Physical dependence is when your body needs a drug to function normally. Withdrawal symptoms when the medication is stopped or reduced can be a sign of physical dependence. Withdrawal symptoms can be intense and include nausea, vomiting, and sweating. It can make cessation of drug use difficult. Physical dependence may occur with abuse or with long-term proper use of medications.

Symptoms

Symptoms of opioid addiction may include:

  • Rapid increase in the amount of medication needed
  • Moving from 1 doctor to another for additional prescriptions
  • Craving the medication
  • Inability to stop or limit medication use
  • Using significant effort to acquire the medication
  • Medication use that interferes with activities
  • Compulsive use of the medication despite adverse effects

Diagnosis

Addiction can be difficult to diagnose. Prescription opioid addiction can start with someone who needs frequent pain medications for a long-term condition. This can make it difficult to distinguish the difference between addiction and medical need.

Your doctor will ask about your symptoms, your medical history, and use of opioids. A physical exam will be done.

Treatment

Talk with your doctor about the best treatment plan for you. Treatment options include:

Prevention

The best way to prevent this condition is to never use opioids. They are highly addictive. If you do have to take prescription drugs to treat pain, follow the directions closely and use them for the shortest amount of time needed.

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