The United States is in the midst of an opioid addiction crisis. In fact, according to a May 2022 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), deaths from opioid overdoses increased from 70,029 in 2020 to 80,816 in 2021. Given this fact, it is clear that opioids are still stealing lives, and it is critical that treatment experts and policy makers take action to address the opioid epidemic. One option that can save the lives of those living with opioid addictions is MAT treatment for opioid use. Below, learn about this treatment option, as well as other important information about opioid dependency, including signs of opioid addiction, as well as what causes it. 

What Is Opioid Addiction? 

When people use the term opioid addiction, they are describing a “substance use disorder,” which is the clinical term for an addiction. More specifically, people who are addicted to opioids have an opioid use disorder. An opioid use disorder is a diagnosable condition, and when someone has this condition, they will continue to use opioids, even when drug misuse leads to serious consequences.

Once a person develops an opioid addiction, it is difficult for them to stop using these drugs, because drug misuse causes changes in brain structure, leading to drug cravings, personality changes, and difficulty with impulse control and decision making. A substance use disorder can also lead to opiate dependency, meaning that the body does not function the same without drugs. Once a person is dependent upon opioids, they will experience unpleasant withdrawal symptoms when they stop using opioids. They are also likely to build a tolerance to opioids, meaning they will need larger amounts of drugs to achieve the same effects. 

Opioid Addiction Signs And Symptoms

So, what are the signs that someone is addicted to opioids? There are some general signs of addiction, as well as signs and symptoms that are specific to opioid misuse. Consider the signs below. 

Increased Dosage of Drugs

When a person has developed an opiate dependence, they may also show a tolerance for these drugs. This means they will need an increased dosage to achieve the same desired effects. If you or someone you love has developed an opioid addiction, chances are that the same dose of drugs will not result in a pleasurable effect, so larger doses will be needed. A person with an addiction to opioids may use large quantities of drugs, simply to ward off withdrawal symptoms, or they may use larger quantities than intended, because they have lost the ability to control their drug use. 

Fixation on Drug Use

One of the hallmarks of addiction is continuing to use drugs, even in the face of negative consequences. A person with an opioid addiction may seem to be fixated on drugs, because they spend all of their time, energy, and money seeking and using opioids. Hobbies, family life, and work are likely to fall by the wayside, as a person becomes driven solely by their desire to obtain more drugs. They may even give up activities they once enjoyed, because they are compulsively driven to seek out drugs, while sacrificing all other areas of life. 

Strong Opioid Cravings

Repeated use of an opiate can eventually lead to strong drug cravings when a person becomes addicted. People may crave drugs so strongly that they are willing to sacrifice important relationships or forego major responsibilities like going to work or paying bills, because the desire to use opioids supersedes other obligations. 

Withdrawal Symptoms

A person who is addicted to opioids will experience unpleasant, and even painful, withdrawal symptoms as these drugs leave their system. If it has been more than a few hours since their last use of opioids, you may notice opioid withdrawal side effects, such as diarrhea and vomiting, sleep disturbances, sweating, runny nose, muscle aches, yawning, and goose bumps on the skin. 

Continued Use Despite Health Problems

Unfortunately, once a person becomes addicted to opioids, drug-seeking becomes compulsive because of changes in the brain. This means that people will continue to use drugs, even when it harms their health and wellbeing. If a person is using opioids despite physical or psychological health problems caused by the drugs, this is a clear sign of opioid addiction.

Using in Dangerous Situations 

Once an opioid addiction develops, a person may begin to engage in impulsive, or even dangerous, behavior. For instance, they may drive while under the influence of opioids, attempt to care for children while impaired by drugs, or place themselves in dangerous situations, such as traveling to high-crime areas to obtain drugs. While these behaviors appear obviously dangerous to someone without an addiction, a person who is opioid addicted will be willing to sacrifice their safety in order to obtain drugs, because of the negative effects that addiction has on the brain. 

What Causes Opioid Addiction?

There is not one single cause of opioid addiction. Instead, it is typically a combination of factors that leads to an addiction to opioids. Research suggests that past substance misuse, untreated mental health issues, being younger in age, and social/family risk factors contribute to the development of opioid addiction. In general, some environmental risk factors that can increase the likelihood of addiction include lack of parental supervision, poverty, connection to peers who misuse substances, and high availability of drugs. 

List of Most Addictive Opioids 

When people think of opioid addiction, heroin probably comes to mind first, but there are numerous opioid drugs that have addictive properties. In addition to heroin, the following prescription opioid drugs are highly addictive:

  • Vicodin

  • OxyContin

  • Percocet

  • Morphine

  • Codeine

  • Fentanyl 

Even when taken as prescribed by a doctor, these opioid drugs can lead to tolerance, dependence, and addiction. The risk of opioid addiction increases when people misuse their medication, either by taking larger doses than prescribed, taking the drugs in different ways than intended (such as by injecting or snorting), or obtaining additional doses of the drugs illegally off the streets. 

Opioid Addiction Prevention 

Prescription opioids have legitimate medical purposes, but when misused, they can lead to addiction. People often wonder, “How can we prevent opioid addiction?” For prevention, it is important to take these medications exactly as prescribed if you require them. If you have a history of addiction, or other risk factors for substance misuse, you may consider asking your doctor about alternative options for treating pain. 

If you do choose to take an opioid medication, it is critical that you stay in touch with your doctor regarding any side effects you experience. Do not take more medication than prescribed, and do not ever take an opioid prescription that belongs to someone else. 

If you do need opioid medications, be sure that you talk with your doctor about the risks and benefits of these medications. In many cases, the risk of addiction is shorter with short-term use and lower doses of the medication. 

Opioid Addiction Treatment Options 

If you or someone you love is addicted to opioid drugs, the good news is that there are effective treatment options available for opioid misuse. For instance, patients may receive treatment on an inpatient basis, in which they live on-site at a treatment center, or they may choose an outpatient program, which allows them to continue to live at home while attending appointments at an addiction treatment facility. 

Within the outpatient level of care, there are less intensive services, as well as intensive outpatient and partial hospitalization programs, which are highly structured and provide more hours of services. 

One treatment option that is widely used for opioid use disorder is MAT. MAT treatment for opioid use involves the use of medications, typically alongside counseling, to treat opioid addiction. Medications commonly used in MAT include Suboxone and naltrexone. These medications can reduce drug cravings and help people to stay committed to recovery while they engage in other therapies, such as individual and group counseling.

With the growth of technology and telehealth, many people can receive treatment through an online medication assisted treatment (MAT) clinic. These clinics provide patients with access to opioid addiction treatment without ever having to leave home. 

FAQs

If you’re looking to learn about opioid addiction and dependence, the answers to the following common questions are also helpful. 

How Do You Know If You’re Addicted To Pain Pills? 

Only a physician or addiction treatment specialist can diagnose an opioid use disorder, which is the clinical term for an opioid addiction, but there are some opioid addiction symptoms that suggest it might be time to reach out for help. For example, using larger amounts of opioids than intended, giving up other activities due to drug misuse, continuing to use drugs even when they cause health problems, and experiencing withdrawal symptoms when not using opioids are indicators that point to addiction.

What Are The Side Effects Of Being Addicted To Opioids?

In addition to causing withdrawal symptoms and interfering with daily functioning, opioid addiction can lead to numerous long-term side effects. These include increased risk of infectious diseases like HIV, as well as a danger of overdose, which can lead to coma, brain damage, and death. Over the short-term, misusing opioids can cause drowsiness, confusion, nausea, and constipation. 

What Are Long-Term Consequences Of Opioids?

Over the long-term, opioid use can lead to addiction, especially if a person repeatedly misuses these medications. Some long-term health problems associated with opioids include fractures, sleep disordered breathing, immune system problems, chronic constipation, tooth decay, bowel obstruction, and heart problems. 

What Is Opioid Addiction? 

Opioid addiction is also called an opioid use disorder. These terms refer to a legitimate medical condition, in which brain changes from repeated drug use lead a person to compulsively seek out drugs, even in the face of serious consequences. When a person is addicted to opioids, their body will not function the same without the drugs, which leads to unpleasant withdrawal symptoms when a person tries to stop using them.

What Does Opioid Addiction Look Like? 

There is no specific “look” that represents opioid addiction. An opioid use disorder can happen to anyone, regardless of age, occupation, overall health, or socioeconomic status. Some people may become addicted to prescription opioids that they were prescribed for legitimate medical reasons. Others may begin with prescription opioids and then transition to misusing heroin if they are no longer able to obtain enough opioids to keep withdrawal symptoms at bay as their tolerance grows. 

Some people may have a more severe opioid addiction, whereas others may experience a mild opioid use disorder and maintain a higher degree of functioning. Regardless of how opioid addiction looks for a specific person, what cases of opioid addiction have in common is that they represent a legitimate medical disorder that requires treatment. 

What Are Some Forms of Treatment For Opioid Addiction? 

Opioid addiction can be treated on either an inpatient or an outpatient basis. People in treatment usually receive a variety of services, including case management, individual and group counseling, and medication services. MAT treatment for opioid use is a common treatment modality that uses a combination of medications and counseling to treat opioid addiction. 

Are Opioids Legal?

Heroin is an illegal opioid drug, as it has no legitimate medical uses. Prescription opioids are legal, but only if a person has a prescription to take these medications. Using or possessing prescription opioids without a prescription is illegal, because these medications are controlled substances and as such are heavily regulated. 

Why Do People Take Opioids?

People take prescription opioids to treat pain. People who live with cancer or chronic pain may take opioids over the long-term to improve their quality of life, whereas some people may take these medications over the short-term, such as following a surgery or injury.

Unfortunately, some people may also misuse opioid drugs to get high, to relieve stress, or because they are pressured by peers to experiment with drugs. In these cases, opioid misuse can lead to addiction. 

Learn How To Get Help With Opioid Addiction Through Confidant Health 

If you or a loved one lives with an opioid addiction, you likely have questions about how to get help. With Confidant Health, you can access MAT treatment for opioid use from the privacy and convenience of home. Simply download our app today, on either the Apple Store or Google Play Store, to access our online medication assisted treatment (MAT) clinic.