Opioid addiction is currently causing severe health and social issues in the United States. What has now been coined as the “Opioid Epidemic,” the recent rise in the number of cases of opioid addiction and opioid-related overdose deaths has been plaguing addicts and their loved ones throughout the country. Understanding addiction and its underlying issues are crucial in the quest to find relief from substance abuse.

Opioids are one of the most addictive substances on the planet and can easily cause people from all walks of life to fall into self-destructive substance abuse patterns. Identifying opioid addiction symptoms and finding proper opioid addiction treatment are time-sensitive matters. Each day, nearly 115 people in the United States alone are dying as a result of opioid overdose according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).

Learn more about opioids, opioid addiction, opioid addiction symptoms, and what goes into the process of opioid addiction treatment so you or your loved one may finally overcome this difficult disorder and live a happy, healthy, sober life!

What are Opioids?

Opioids are arguably one of the most physically and psychologically addictive substances in the world. The term opioid is used to define a large category of drugs that contain both illicit (illegal) and prescription medications. Many individuals struggle with opioid addiction through no fault of their own. It can often start out innocently as a result of using prescription painkillers to treat an injury or even after surgery.

The way in which opioids affect the brain and body are what make them so dangerous and addictive. Upon consuming an opioid, by swallowing, snorting, inhaling, or injecting the drug, the internal chemistry of both the brain and body changes immediately.

Opioids work by binding to the opioid receptors in the brain, which are located on the neurons of brain cells. The body consists of two components of the nervous system: the central nervous system, CNS, and peripheral nervous system, PNS. The GI would be considered a part of the PNS.

Upon binding to the opioid receptors, the substances then send signals to the brain, which, in turn, block feelings of pain, slows breathing, and causes calming and sometimes euphoric effects. Opioids are able to activate these receptors on the neurons due to their chemical makeup. Opioids can mimic the structure of a natural neurotransmitter, which allows the opioid to lock onto the nerve cells and subsequently activate them.

Opioids will then impact the reward system of the brain. By flooding this circuit with the neurotransmitter dopamine (the feel-good chemical), the body will be “rewarded” with feelings of pleasure. Dopamine also affects emotion, cognition, motivation, and are responsible for regulating movement in the body.

The euphoric feeling that the user encounters upon consuming opioids is the driving force behind continuing to repeat the behavior of using the drug. This leads to an obsessive and compulsive cycle of obtaining and using opioids in order to achieve these effects.

The brain and body become accustomed to the presence of opioids in the system. Over time, natural dopamine production is altered, and the body develops a dependence on the opioid effect to function. The drugs will change the internal chemistry of both the brain and body meaning that when use is suddenly decreased or stopped altogether, the body will no longer be able to regulate internal functions and processes.

The adjustment period the brain and body will require to return to normal following the cessation of opioid use is what’s known as “withdrawal”. During opioid withdrawals, the individual will encounter the manifestation of certain physical and emotional symptoms that can be mild or severe in nature. These symptoms are often painful and can lead an individual with an opioid addiction to continue using these drugs even when they want to stop.

Since dopamine is also responsible for some of the emotional functions of the brain, opioids can also cause the user to develop a psychological dependence as well. Apart from the physical aspect of opioid addiction, many people undergo what’s known as a psychological addiction as well. They become dependant on these drugs to regulate their mood and emotions.

Opioid addiction is a harrowing condition that can cause severe physical, emotional, and financial difficulties for the addict and their loved ones. It’s important to identify the signs of an opioid addiction as soon as possible so as to prevent the condition from getting worse.

Upon successfully identifying and diagnosing an opioid addiction, you can find help for yourself or a loved one from an opioid addiction treatment program at a drug rehab.

What are the Signs of Opioid Addiction?

If you believe you or a loved one may be struggling with an opioid addiction, it’s important to get professional help right away. Effectively handling addiction is time-sensitive, meaning that the sooner you or a loved one receive addiction treatment, the better.

Addiction, or a substance use disorder, is a chronic, progressive disease as recognized by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-V). Medical and mental health professionals around the world diagnose this condition each day and are trained to treat it with evidence-based practices.

Substance use disorders have no known cure. While this may initially seem like a hopeless condition, the disease of addiction is entirely treatable and can be arrested using effective addiction therapy approaches. The important thing is finding the signs and symptoms before it’s too late.

There are certain criteria involved in making a substance use disorder diagnosis. The DSM-V has broken down the condition into 11 criteria that make it possible for medical and mental health professionals to identify the condition.

Criteria for SUD Diagnosis

The criteria for a substance use disorder diagnosis are:

  • Taking the substance in larger amounts and for longer than intended
  • Wanting to cut down or quit but not being able to do it
  • Spending a lot of time obtaining the substance
  • Craving or a strong desire to use the substance
  • Repeatedly unable to carry out major obligations at work, school, or home due to substance use
  • Continued use despite persistent or recurring social or interpersonal problems cause or made worse by substance use
  • Stopping or reducing important social, occupational, or recreational activities due to substance use
  • The recurring use of substances in physically hazardous situations
  • Consistent use of a substance despite acknowledgment of persistent or recurrent physical or psychological difficulties from using substances
  • Tolerance as defined by either a need for markedly increased amounts to achieve intoxication or desired effect or markedly diminished effect with continued use of the same amount
  • Withdrawal manifesting as either characteristic syndrome or the substance is used to avoid withdrawal

These criteria can be used to identify a substance use disorder for any substance, illicit or prescription, as well as an alcohol use disorder. You must meet a minimum of two to three to receive a mild substance use disorder diagnosis. A moderate substance use disorder requires four to five of the criteria to be met. Finally, a severe substance use disorder diagnosis meets six to seven (or more) of these criteria.

When speaking directly about opioid addiction symptoms, however, there are other signs that point to this specific category of drug abuse. Some of the commonly seen opioid addiction symptoms are:

  • Sudden changes in weight
  • Withdrawing from different social activities/obligations
  • Mood swings
  • Aggression
  • Irritability
  • Lethargy or fatigue
  • Depression
  • Changes in social circles
  • Insomnia or other changes in sleeping patterns
  • Financial difficulties
  • Lying and/or stealing
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Red eyes
  • Pinned pupils
  • Sweating
  • Cravings for opioids
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms
  • Unable to stop taking opioids even when faced with negative consequences

What’s important to remember is that addiction is not a one-size-fits-all condition. Each individual that struggles with addiction will have their own unique experience with the disorder. Each person will manifest their opioid addiction symptoms differently, so it’s crucial to keep an eye out for any of the above signs.

If you believe you or a loved one is currently battling an opioid addiction, the next logical step is to get immediate opioid addiction treatment. By finding the correct facility, you can begin the healing process and get started on your journey in recovery.

What is Involved in Opioid Addiction Treatment?

So if you believe that you or your loved one is battling an opioid addiction, it’s time to seek professional help. Opioid addiction treatment uses proven methods of therapy and other approaches to help you get your substance abuse disorder under control. This is accomplished by undergoing the full continuum of care.

The full continuum of care refers to completing each level of care in a “stepped” format that allows for the appropriate amount of medical and clinical intervention at each stage of recovery.

By starting out in higher levels of care, which include more hands-on medical and clinical services, and slowly descending into lower levels of care, you’ll prevent yourself from becoming overwhelmed with too much personal responsibility and freedom too early on in the recovery process. People who complete the full continuum of care are more likely to be successful in long-term recovery.


The first stage of opioid addiction treatment is medical detox or known simply as detox.  Since opioid addiction causes a physical dependence to develop on the drugs, many people often fear to stop their opioid use and experience withdrawals. Medical detox is designed to help you comfortably and safely traverse the withdrawal process and begin your opioid addiction treatment.

Upon arriving at detox, you’ll undergo a full medical assessment by the medical staff comprised of doctors, nurses, and other medical support staff. They will take a look at the severity of your opioid addiction and your overall physical health.

Following the assessment, an individualized detox plan will be created to meet your specific needs. By implementing certain detox medications, it will help alleviate some of the side effects and help you overcome your withdrawal symptoms as quickly, comfortably, and safely as possible.

Since not all of the withdrawal symptoms associated with opioid addiction are physical, having the clinical team made up of therapists, case managers, and support staff is also helpful during this time. You will have access to clinical services such as therapy sessions and group where you can openly discuss how you’re feeling and begin to get to the underlying root causes of your addiction.

The overall goal of detox is to provide patients with medical stabilization. This successfully helps you stop taking the opioids and manage any withdrawal symptoms so that you can safely move onto the next phase of treatment where more therapeutic opioid addiction treatment methods are employed.


After the completion of medical detox, it is always recommended to follow the full continuum of care and move onto the next phase of opioid addiction treatment: inpatient or residential treatment. Since detox merely addresses the physical aspect of opioid addiction, it’s important to complete this next phase which more directly addresses the psychological or emotional aspect of opioid addiction.

Here at inpatient or residential treatment, you’ll live onsite at your opioid addiction treatment facility. You will undergo full-time addiction therapy that operates with a unique curriculum of different approaches and techniques. Every addiction treatment facility has its own addiction therapy methods and approaches as well as amenities, so it’s important to know what you’re looking for prior to heading off to inpatient/residential.

Regardless of the specific addiction therapy techniques employed, the overall goal is the same. Inpatient/residential is intended to do the therapeutic “heavy lifting” involved in opioid addiction treatment. You will work along with the clinical team to get to the underlying root causes of addiction, as well as address any other emotional issues or dual diagnosis disorders.

While here, you’ll live with other recovering addicts and alcoholics. You will attend therapy sessions and groups designed to help teach you new coping mechanisms, life skills, and relapse prevention techniques to help you maintain your recovery even after opioid addiction treatment ends.

Intensive Outpatient

Following the full continuum of care, after finishing inpatient/residential treatment, you’ll move onto the next stage of opioid addiction treatment: intensive outpatient. This level of care is different from inpatient in the sense that you will no longer live onsite at the facility but are required to find alternative housing and commute to therapy sessions. Many addicts and alcoholics chose to either return home or take up residence at a sober living home which features a structured environment intended to promote recovery.

Regardless of your living situation, intensive outpatient or IOP will drop down from full-time therapy sessions to part-time. IOP will usually occur multiple times a week for several hours at a time. During sessions, you will still receive intense clinical intervention and therapy techniques designed to continue to work with you in your recovery.

Having off time allows for more personal freedom and responsibility. Many addicts are able to return to work or family obligations. However, the transition from inpatient to IOP can be challenging for some, which is what makes IOP so important. Through consistent therapy sessions and random drug testing, it can help keep you on track in your recovery and program.


The final phase of opioid addiction treatment is routine outpatient, or simply outpatient. Outpatient programs are similar to IOP in the sense that they are still operating on a part-time basis, however, sessions begin to occur less frequently and for less time.

Outpatient will typically only occur for one-hour sessions per week. But, as opposed to IOP which lasts only six to eight weeks, outpatient programs will usually last a few months. The lingering minor clinical intervention can help you maintain a point of clinical contact as well as provide additional support as you make the final transition from drug rehab or alcohol rehab back into society at large as a sober person.

Your attendance to the sessions will still be required, and in order to keep you on track and abstaining from drugs and/or alcohol, you will be required to submit random drug tests during your participation in an outpatient program. Many people use outpatient programs in tandem with other aftercare approaches like alumni programs or 12-step programs to increase the likelihood of success in recovery.

How Dangerous Are Opioids?/ Opioid Overdose

Despite the amount of attention the opioid epidemic has garnered, still millions of people battle drug addiction worldwide each day. The number of people succumbing to opioid overdose is increasing at an alarming rate, and this is likely due to the dangerous nature of opioid use.

Opioid overdose is the phenomenon that occurs when a person ingests too high of a dose of opioids. Since opioids slow down a number of internal body processes, such as breathing rate, blood pressure, and heart rate, people can lose consciousness and stop breathing.

Opioid overdose can be reversed using certain medications like Narcan, however, it is not always effective. Depending on the amount of the opioid consumed, and what type, it may not be enough to reverse opioid overdose.

Many people are inadvertently overdosing on opioids due to the recent influx of the presence of Fentanyl (a powerful opioid analog) in the illicit opioid heroin. Fentanyl is estimated to be nearly 100 times more potent than heroin, and many addicts are unaware that it has been mixed with their heroin. What would be an appropriate dose of heroin is far too large of a dose of Fentanyl, causing the addict to immediate overdose.

Opioid Abuse Statistics

The situation surrounding opioid addiction is grim. Each year, the terrifying statistics surrounding the number of people battling opioid addiction and dying as a result of opioid overdose increases. Check out some of the current opioid addiction statistics so you and your loved ones can understand just how serious and dangerous these drugs are:

  • According to NIDA, the economic burden presented by the opioid epidemic costs the United States $78.5 billion annually in healthcare, lost productivity, addiction treatment, and criminal justice involvement.
  • 21 to 29 percent of patients prescribed opioids for chronic pain misuse them.
  • Between 8 to 12 percent develop an opioid use disorder
  • About 80 percent of people who use heroin first misused prescription opioids.
  • Opioid overdoses increased 30 percent from July 2016 through September 2017 in 52 areas in 45 states.
  • The Midwestern region saw opioid overdoses increase 70 percent from July 2016 through September 2017.
  • Opioid overdoses in large cities increased by 54 percent in 16 states.

Commonly Abused Opioids:

  • Heroin
  • Fentanyl
  • Carfentanil
  • Morphine
  • Codeine
  • Vicodin
  • Oxycodone
  • Hydrocodone
  • Tramadol
  • Suboxone
  • Methadone
  • Kratom
  • Darvocet
  • Demerol
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