What is opioid addiction?

It might start with a prescription from your doctor. Or, you might use illicit drugs. Opioid addiction is a long-lasting, serious condition that can result in severe health and social problems. 

Opioid addiction causes an overwhelmingly strong desire to use opioid drugs. These include:

  • Heroin
  • Codeine
  • Fentanyl
  • Morphine
  • Methadone
  • Oxycodone
  • Hydrocodone 

Opioid addiction happens when you use these medications even though you don't have a medical reason to. These kinds of drugs can change how your brain works. That can make addiction more likely the longer you take the drugs.

Opioids are very good at controlling pain. They help dull the way your brain processes feelings of pain. They can also increase the chemicals in your brain that make you feel pleasure. That's why they can be so addictive. People start using the pills to get that pleasurable feeling even if their bodies aren't hurting.

Causes of opioid addiction

Normally, your body makes hormones called endorphins. These substances trigger a positive feeling in your brain and make you feel good. When you take opioids, these medications create artificial endorphins. Your brain doesn't know the difference between these and the endorphins your body makes. It just knows that the opioids make you feel good. You may start to take more opioids to get the same feeling, and this creates a cycle of addiction. Over time, your body may even stop making its own endorphins.

Risk factors for opioid addiction

Opioid addiction is an extremely complex and serious condition. It can happen even after a short time taking opioids. They may cause an endless and strong craving for the drug. This can get stronger the longer you take the medication, whether or not you have a prescription. Those who want to maximize the "good" feelings of the drug may crush and snort it, or even inject it. These methods of use are indications of addiction.

Women are more likely than men to develop long-lasting pain. That makes them more at risk for this condition. Genetics can influence addiction, too. Other risk factors can include:

  • Stress
  • Poverty
  • Depression
  • Unemployment
  • Criminal history

Having friends or family members who engage in risky behaviors

Symptoms of opioid addiction

Two million Americans may misuse prescription or illicit opioids. Symptoms of opioid addiction can appear quickly. They may get worse fast, too. Your brain can grow tolerant of the medicine. It may start to require bigger amounts to get the same pleasurable feeling.

Other symptoms include:

  • Taking more drugs or taking them longer than prescribed
  • Needing more for the same sensations or pain relief
  • Interruptions in your personal or professional life
  • Inability to stop using without physical pain
  • Spending time trying to find more opioids

Diagnosis of opioid addiction

You don't need to have every symptom to have an opioid addiction. You might suspect that you've become physically or mentally dependent on the drug. Talk with your doctor immediately. Your doctor can create a plan to help you stop taking the drug in a medically supervised way. You can limit the amount of discomfort associated with withdrawal symptoms. You may be taking opioids and experiencing:

  • Anxiety
  • Tremors
  • Cravings
  • Irritability
  • Rapid breathing
  • Flu-like symptoms

If these symptoms appear, your doctor may diagnose you with an opioid addiction.

Treatments for opioid addiction

The first step to treatment is to remove the opioids from your system. This can be a very uncomfortable and challenging experience. Your doctor can give you medications to lessen the signs of withdrawal. These can also make the detoxification process easier.

Physical detoxification is just the first step to treatment for opioid addiction. Your doctor may recommend psychotherapy. You can work with a counselor and learn to manage the emotions that happen with addiction. They can help you work at repairing relationships that may have been damaged during your addiction.

Support groups are an excellent way to continue your recovery and treatment. Finding others who have similar experiences can help you see that you're not alone. There are people around you who support you and wish to see you succeed.

Stress-relief treatments are also important during this time. Consider yoga, meditation, art or another creative outlet. This can give you a positive thing to focus on as you work to gain control over your life. Developing healthy coping skills can reduce your risk of relapse.

Treatment for opioid addiction can be a long process, but it's possible. Many people overcome strong cravings for drugs. They commit to the process one day at a time. Your doctor is an excellent resource to answer any questions or address concerns you may have during this time.

Recovery from opioid addiction

Any kind of substance abuse is a chronic condition. That means it can return, but it might not. It's important to continue managing your condition using what you learned during treatment.  Working with a therapist can help you build healthy habits over time. You can also reduce triggers. This can keep you healthy and free from negative behavior patterns.