Opioid Addiction: Abuse Signs, Effects & Treatment

Opioid Addiction: The Treatment Guide

The opioid epidemic has driven a surge in people seeking treatment for opioid dependence. Opioids, which have legitimate use as analgesics and anesthetics, are among the most widely abused drugs. Abuse can lead to severe physical dependence and even death. Before starting recovery, it is helpful to understand exactly what constitutes opioid dependence and addiction.

Opioid Addiction Treatment

What Are Opioids?

Opioids are a class of painkillers available by prescription. They function by binding to opioid receptors in the brain, which blocks pain signals.

Some common types of prescription opioids include:

Why Is Opioid Addiction a Problem?

We’ll address the first question: “What makes opioids addictive?” Opioids are a class of painkillers. Because most opioids also produce feelings of euphoria, they’re also used for recreational purposes. As a result, people who take prescription opioids can become addicted. An addiction is when someone compulsively seeks out and uses opioid drugs despite negative consequences.

Opioids can cause serious health problems, including overdose, brain damage, and severe withdrawal symptoms. The consequences are even worse when used with other drugs, making them complicated to treat. However, you can get help in any rehabilitation center by getting opioid addiction treatment.

What Causes Opioid Dependence and Addiction?

Opioid dependence occurs when a person’s body adapts to the presence of the drug and begins to depend on it. Dependence is different from addiction, but they often go hand in hand. People with an addiction to opioids cannot control their compulsions and cravings for the drug. This can be caused by social, environmental, psychological, and genetic factors. People prone to addiction because of their genetics may be more likely to develop an opioid dependence after taking prescription pain medication or using heroin or fentanyl recreationally.

They may also have difficulty stopping using these opioids even if they aren’t in physical pain. Some people may start taking opioids as prescribed but soon begin abusing them, leading to dependence and tolerance. Others may try opioids recreationally and develop compulsive behaviors surrounding the use of these drugs.

What Are the Signs of Opioid Addiction and Abuse?

There are various signs and symptoms of opioid abuse and addiction. Someone who abuses opioids may feel excessively drowsy and have slowed heart rate. They may feel tired, depressed, or weak, even if they have just woken up from sleeping for several hours.

Respiratory depression also occurs when a person abuses opioids. Shortness of breath or trouble breathing could be another sign of addiction and other health problems. If you think that your loved one may have an addiction to opioids, it’s important to see a doctor to check for respiratory issues as soon as possible.

These drugs cause the eye’s pupil-constricting muscles to contract more strongly than usual, leading to constricted pupils when a person is using them. Nausea and vomiting are also symptoms of opioid use disorder (OUD). They’re often side effects of taking high doses over time; however, nausea and vomiting can also occur after just one dose, depending on how much was taken.

Who Is at Risk for an Addiction to Opioids?

Researchers have identified several factors that may increase the risk of an addiction to opioids. Duration of use is one of these. Anyone who takes prescription opioids for more than a few days can become addicted. However, the longer someone uses them, the more likely they will become dependent on them.

Those with a family history of addiction are also at higher risk of developing an addiction themselves. This may be due to genetic and environmental influences that make them more vulnerable to developing addictions. Finally, those living with mental health conditions such as anxiety, depression, or bipolar disorder are more prone to addiction issues. In many cases, people who have co-occurring conditions like these tend to feel overwhelmed by daily life and turn to drugs to cope better with their struggles. Unfortunately, the struggles often worsen when they become addicted.

Opioid Withdrawal Symptoms

When a person’s body has become dependent on opioids, they will experience physical and mental withdrawal symptoms when they suddenly stop using. The symptoms of opioid withdrawal can be intense, but there are different treatment methods for managing the symptoms and, in some cases, avoiding them altogether. Withdrawal is usually the first step in overcoming an addiction to opioids. It is a natural process that helps you stop using.

Withdrawal symptoms can begin within hours after the last dose. The most common symptom of opioid withdrawal include:

● A runny nose and watery eyes
● Nausea and vomiting that may start 24 to 48 hours after the last dose
● Stomach cramps that may start 24 to 48 hours after the last dose
● Muscle aches and pain in the bones and joints
● Diarrhea that may start 48 to 72 hours after the last dose
● Goosebumps and fast heart rate due to adrenaline production

Opioid withdrawal symptoms vary from mild to severe depending on the person, the drug used, and the duration of use. Medications like methadone, naltrexone, and buprenorphine can help reduce the severity of withdrawal symptoms. They are also used as maintenance drugs to support long-term recovery.

How Can You Know Someone Has Overdosed?

If you suspect that someone is experiencing an opioid overdose, there are several signs to look out for. An overdose may occur after snorting, swallowing, or injecting a drug such as heroin or oxycodone. Symptoms of an opioid overdose include:

● Shallow breathing or slow and erratic breathing
● Loss of consciousness
● Bluish tint to lips, tongue, and fingertips
● Pinpoint pupils in the eyes
● Choking sounds or gurgling noise

It is vital to seek help if you suspect an overdose has occurred. First, call 911 immediately and then consider administering naloxone if available. The quicker a person receives medical attention for an opioid overdose, the better their chances of survival.

Treatment Options for Those With an Addiction to Opioids

There are many different treatment options available for drug and alcohol addiction. There is no one-size-fits-all solution, so treatment should be tailored to suit your specific needs and circumstances. Often, treatment blends several of the following approaches. You can visit any rehabilitation center, but you need to ensure the facility offers an Accredited and Certified Opioid Treatment Program. Many facilities provide the following treatment services.


In an inpatient treatment program, you will stay at the facility 24/7 and receive care and support from medical doctors and addiction specialists. If you have a severe addiction and are surrounded by people and places that trigger your drug use, inpatient treatment offers you the greatest chance at long-term sobriety. Typically, an inpatient program will begin with medical detox to rid your body of opioids. Then, you will move on to a recovery program comprising counseling and individual and group therapy sessions. You may also have access to complementary holistic therapies during treatment. While the duration of treatment can vary, inpatient programs typically last between 30 and 90 days.


Outpatient treatments can be offered as a standalone program or an extension of treatment for those who completed an inpatient program. With outpatient programs, you only attend a treatment facility for therapy sessions and are able to return home each day. If you’re considering outpatient therapy as a standalone treatment, note that you will be most successful if you have a strong support system at home. One of the major benefits of outpatient programs is that they allow you to keep up with work, school, and family responsibilities while you work on your addiction. Depending on the program and your needs, you may attend outpatient therapy for several hours a day or just a few hours each week.

Opioid Addiction Treatment Services

Regardless of whether you’re undergoing inpatient or outpatient treatment, the services offered will typically be similar following a period of detox. Some of the treatment services you’ll receive include the following.

Psychological Therapy

Psychological therapy is an essential part of opioid treatment since it helps people uncover the root causes of their addiction. In individual and group sessions, you’ll explore the reasons you begin to use and continue to use opioids. Therapy sessions will also focus on helping you develop healthier coping mechanisms to avoid relapse. Some of the different approaches used in addiction therapy include motivational interviewing and motivational enhancement therapy, which help people overcome their ambivalence about stopping their drug use and motivates them to build a plan for change.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is another treatment modality often used in inpatient and outpatient rehab programs. CBT is particularly helpful in assisting those with opioid use disorder to see how learned patterns of thinking and behavior led to their drug use. The therapy teaches people how to break these unhelpful cognitive and behavioral patterns and learn better ways to cope with challenges.

Family Therapy

Family therapy is often included as part of addiction treatment because addiction is a disease that affects the user and their loved ones. During family therapy sessions, those with substance use disorder have the chance to hear how their drug use has impacted those around them. Family members also learn about how their actions may have inadvertently contributed to their loved one’s addiction.

12-step Facilitation

Many treatment facilities incorporate elements of 12-step programs and connect clients with 12-step groups in their communities. These programs, which require those with addiction issues to work through a specific series of steps toward recovery, are highly beneficial because they promote accountability and provide those in recovery with peer support. They also provide people with a forum where they can discuss their struggles and receive feedback from others who have had similar experiences.

Medication-assisted Treatment

Many people with opioid use disorder, particularly those with longstanding addictions, benefit from medication-assisted treatment. Medications like buprenorphine block opioid receptors and help reduce withdrawal symptoms without causing the high that drives addiction. Other medications like naltrexone completely block opioid receptors so that if a person uses an opioid they don’t like the effect. These types of medications are administered alongside other therapies and are most beneficial among people who are highly motivated to quit using drugs.

Get Help Today

While it can be difficult to deal with a substance use disorder in yourself or a loved one, help is widely available. The treatment methods mentioned here are offered throughout the country in facilities led by caring doctors and treatment specialists. If an addiction to opioids is affecting your life, reach out to a local treatment provider today to discuss your 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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