Opiate Addiction: Abuse Signs, Effects & Treatment

Opiate Addiction Treatment

About 10% of adults in the United States struggle with addiction at some point in their lives. One of the most abused classes of drugs is opiates. The main reason why people misuse opiates is to derive pleasure. The drugs have sedative effects that temporarily relax people with anxiety issues or depression. Others take the drugs out of curiosity or due to peer pressure. There is also a group of people who accidentally get into addiction after misusing prescription drugs.

Whatever the cause, opiate addiction is a treatable condition, and with the proper support, you will achieve long-term sobriety. Addiction recovery starts with admitting that you have a problem, learning about your condition, and getting professional help. Here is a detailed guide that answers most of your questions concerning opiate addiction treatment.

Opiate Addiction Treatment

What Are Opiates?

In most cases, people use the terms opioids and opiates interchangeably. Both are narcotics used for pain relief, diarrhea, cough suppression, and anesthesia. People struggling with substance use disorder also obtain both drugs illicitly. The main difference is that opiates come from natural plant matter like the opium poppy, but scientists synthesize opioids in the lab.

The most common examples of opiates include:


Some of the well-known opioids include:

Meperidine (Demerol)

The term opioid may refer to both natural and synthetic forms of these drugs. People dependent on opioids also use opiates to fulfill their cravings. Therefore, opiate and opioid use have similar effects and addiction treatment procedures.

Opiate Addiction

Anyone who takes opiates, whether with a prescription or illicitly, is at risk of addiction. While using opiates as a prescribed medicine, you usually have control over the use. However, once you start taking a higher dosage than prescribed, your brain chemistry will change. Opiates trigger the release of endorphins, creating a temporary sense of pleasure. Once these effects wear off, you get intense cravings for the substance. You notice that you can’t function properly without the drug.

When you continue using the drug for a prolonged period, it slows down the body’s natural production of endorphins. With time, you develop tolerance, and you will need a higher dose of the drugs to get similar effects. Some people try to obtain a higher prescription, but since doctors are aware are the risks, it’s usually very difficult. This might push you to use illegal opioids like heroin to satisfy your cravings. Increasing the quantity of the substance taken can damage your internal organs, and it increases overdose risk, which is life-threatening.

Whenever you try quitting, you will likely experience some undesirable effects, so you should get to a facility that deals with addiction treatment. A professional will help tune your brain to derive positive feelings from healthier behaviors like exercise, consuming delicious food, or spending time with family.

Signs of Opiate Abuse

Knowing the warning signs of opiate addiction can help you seek early intervention before the problem becomes more severe. The earlier you seek treatment, the higher your chances of recovery.

If your loved ones show most of the following symptoms, they could have taken inappropriate doses of opiates:

• Drowsiness
• Lightheadedness
• Muscle rigidity
• Insomnia
• Profuse sweating
• Nausea
• Constant itching
• Disorientation
• Dry mouth
• Memory problems
• Impaired judgments
• Dramatic mood swings
• Anger and aggression

Some of the most common behavioral signs of opioids addiction include self-isolation and withdrawal from social activities. You may neglect your family or work obligations. You might also get out of character and become violent. Some people begin to lie, steal money, or try to obtain more prescriptions for the drug. Some even forge the prescriptions and use the drugs even in dangerous situations like driving. People struggling with opiate addiction spend most of their time getting the drug, using it, experiencing the effects, and recovering.

Dangers of Abusing Opiates

Some people feel that abusing prescription drugs may be less harmful since they don’t have as much social stigma as using illicit drugs. However, when you take higher opiates doses, your body becomes more tolerant.

Once you take opiates, they attach to your brain’s opioid receptors and send signals to muffle pain reception. The fact that opiates are very effective in treating pain makes them highly dangerous when abused. They are very addictive when used differently than prescribed. Immediately after you take the opiates, you will start to feel sleepy; at higher doses, the drugs may slow down your heart rate and even cause death.

Obtaining the drug in tablet form, crushing the pill, snorting the powder, or injecting it directly into the bloodstream is a form of opiate abuse. These methods deliver the drug faster into the system, increasing the risk of overdose. In 2019, opioid overdose accounted for 70% of overdose deaths.

Long-term opiate abuse can also lead to liver problems, heart attack, coma, and seizures. You can reduce these risks by contacting your doctor if you feel a strong urge to take higher doses of your prescription.

Addiction Interventions

If you observe opiate addiction signs in your loved one, stage an intervention as soon as possible. Convincing a person with signs of opiate addiction to seek help is usually challenging since most people deny having a problem and even refuse help. Confront an opiate abuser about their habit, and convince them that the family will be there to offer assistance throughout the recovery process.

Be very honest about how the addiction affects their lives or your relationship with them. Begin by ending your part in enabling the habit. If you financially assist a loved one who struggles with addiction, withdraw the support to stop feeding the habit. Don’t guilt the person into ceasing drug use. Instead, positively encourage them to seek help by focusing more on the benefits of leading a sober life.

Avoid blaming the person, and try to put out statements more positively. Let them know that you will be part of the solution. For instance, you can offer to look after their kids as they seek treatment. Try to understand the causes of addiction. Ask the person some open-ended questions, and give them a chance to process their thoughts.

Research addiction so that you can provide accurate information about the available treatment options. Focus on building trust with the person so they can open up to you. If your loved one refuses to open up about the issue, stage an intervention with a professional to help them realize their problem and seek help.

Opiate Addiction Treatment

Opiate addiction is treatable. In fact, three out of every four people struggling with addiction eventually recover. Once a person recognizes the negative impacts of substance abuse in their lives, it’s a good idea for them to tey enroll in a rehab facility. Some people fail to seek help due to misinformation about the treatment process.

On the reporting day, a professional will receive you. The admission process is usually straightforward and comforting. A qualified doctor will then conduct a comprehensive assessment to guide them in developing a personalized treatment plan. Expect questions like the type of drugs used, the frequency of use, and how long you have consumed the substance. They will also want to know if you have an underlying issue that could be contributing to drug use. Answer the questions truthfully to maximize the chances of the treatment’s success. Although opioid use disorder treatment procedures may vary from one client to another, expect the following processes.


You start by undergoing medical detoxification to clear your body off toxins and to prepare it for recovery. If you suddenly discontinue opioid use, you might experience withdrawal symptoms like:

• Stomach aches
• Fever
• Vomiting
• Headaches
• Poor sleep
• Nervousness

In extreme cases, quitting drugs unsupervised could lead to seizures, so you should only detox with the help of a qualified doctor. They will monitor you throughout the process and offer support in case of intense cravings. The doctor may also administer medication to ease withdrawal symptoms. Buprenorphine helps reduce cravings, and naltrexone blocks the euphoric effects of opiates. This can minimize the risks of relapse.

After detox, the doctor will prepare you for the following treatment processes and what to expect. Based on the severity of your conditions, the doctor may advise that you consider any of the following treatment plans.

Inpatient Program

As part of an inpatient program, clients reside at the rehabilitation facility to receive a high level of care and monitoring. The main aim is to remove the clients from a trigger-filled home environment and to give them a safe recovery space. This is a perfect option for people dealing with severe addiction issues, those experiencing intense withdrawal symptoms, and those facing a higher risk of relapse.

Outpatient Treatment

People with mild to moderate addiction issues can consider the outpatient program. You visit the rehab facility for treatment for a few hours, and then you head home later. This option gives you the flexibility to continue working, go to school, and take care of your family while still working on your recovery.

Partial Hospitalization

If you need a higher level of care but prefer to live at home, consider partial hospitalization. You spend most of your day in the rehab center working on recovery and then head home. This usually happens about five days a week.


Even after detox, the psychological aspects of addiction can increase the risk of relapse. Counseling will help you recognize your drug use patterns to better deal with triggers. You will attend individual therapy sessions to discuss personal issues that you wouldn’t feel comfortable sharing in public. Group therapy is also essential where you interact and share coping strategies with other people going through similar issues.

Counseling also entails family therapy to give your loved ones a chance to participate in your treatment actively. This session will address any negative emotions caused by your addiction within your family. It will help improve communications, mend relationships, and teach your loved ones how to best support you.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

This mental health counseling teaches people in addiction recovery to be more aware of their actions and emotions to understand how they trigger drug use. You will learn how to replace negativity with positive emotions to avoid triggers.

Dialectical Behavior Therapy

This therapy focuses on improving your coping mechanism, emotional regulation, and distress tolerance. Clients learn how to adapt healthy behaviors in times of stress.

Motivational Interviewing

Motivational interviewing aims to create an optimistic attitude and strengthen the clients’ motivations to work on their recoveries.

Contingency Management Therapy

In this form of therapy, you receive rewards after accomplishing different milestones in your treatment. For instance, if you pass a drug test, you can receive shopping vouchers or other incentives.


Once you leave the rehab center, join programs and work with organizations that encourage you to remain sober. If your home environment triggers drug use, first go to a sober residence. These controlled housings provide a safe and supportive environment for people who just left rehab. You will have the freedom to find a job but must perform chores, follow strict rules, and undergo random tests for accountability. Living in sober homes will train you to remain drug-free as you transition into independence.

Most rehab facilities offer an alumni program to help their clients maintain meaningful relationships among themselves and the staff. Attend such meetings to share your struggles and to gain the encouragement to stay committed to recovery. Joining 12-step programs will also help you overcome addiction.

Don’t Wait Longer – Get Help Now

Addiction is a chronic illness that requires long-term care to heal completely. Commit to fighting your addiction, talk to your doctor about your problem, go to rehab, seek family support, and join organizations that advocate for sobriety. It might seem hard at first, but eventually, you will regain your freedom from drug addiction. Once you make up your mind, reach out to an addiction center to discuss your treatment options.

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Reviewed By:

Dr. John Elgin Wilkaitis

Dr. John Elgin Wilkaitis completed medical school at The University of Mississippi Medical Center and residency in general psychiatry in 2003. He completed a fellowship in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital in 2005. Following this, he served as Chief Medical Officer for 10 years of Brentwood Behavioral Healthcare a private health system including a 105-bed hospital, residential treatment, and intensive outpatient services.

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