What are opioids?

Opioids are substances that produce a euphoric, pain-relieving effect on the user. Natural, synthetic, and semisynthetic opioids are legally and commonly prescribed by physicians, mainly to treat conditions or symptoms that cause physical pain. Under the supervision of a physician and abiding by a strict medication management treatment plan, opioids can be safely and effectively used to treat symptoms of pain.

Natural opioids include:

  • Heroin
  • Morphine
  • Codeine

Synthetic and semisynthetic opioids include:

  • Hydrocodone
  • Oxycodone
  • Fentanyl
  • Buprenorphine
  • Methadone

Opioids can also be used to produce illegal substances, like heroin. Heroin is at the forefront of the United States’ opioid epidemic and is often adulterated with fentanyl – a legal opioid – which can be deadly even when consumed in small quantities.

There is also a distinction between opioids and opiates, despite their apparent similarities. While opioids refer to all types of opioids – natural, semisynthetic and synthetic alike – opiates only refer to natural opioids like heroin, morphine and codeine. Opiates are directly derived from the opium plant.

Why are opioids so addictive?

Opioids are considered to have an extremely high risk of abuse and addiction. The United States Drug Enforcement Agency classifies heroin as a Schedule I drug, meaning it has no accepted medical use and has a high potential for abuse. Other opiates like methadone, oxycodone and fentanyl are classified as Schedule II drugs because, while they do have accepted medical uses for pain management they have a high potential for abuse, along with physical and psychological addiction. It is estimated that one in four patients who are prescribed opioids will eventually struggle with opioid addiction.

Opioids produce a euphoric effect by introducing a rush of artificial endorphins. Prolonged opioid use will necessarily increase the body’s tolerance to the drug, which leads to increased use to compensate. Eventually, the brain will become reliant on the artificial endorphins produced by opioids to the point that the brain stops producing endorphins on its own. This is why opioids are addictive, they change the chemistry of the brain such that the brain requires opioids to produce endorphins.

In fact, opioids are likely more addictive than the average person might believe, which in part fuels the opioid epidemic. Say, for example, that your friend was prescribed an opioid to manage pain after surgery. They consider themselves to be a good person and are following a strict medication schedule from their doctor, so they are not worried about becoming addicted. After a week or so, your friend feels like the medication is not as effective as it was when they first began taking it, so they choose to take two pills instead of their prescribed one. After all, the medication was prescribed to prevent and manage pain. Your friend will then run out of their prescription more quickly than scheduled, and while they may be able to get one more prescription from their doctor, the doctor refuses additional refills after that. By this point, your friend has developed a physical and psychological addiction to opioids and is now looking for a less expensive, more accessible source, such as heroin. Opioid addiction does not discriminate; the addictive properties of opioids have the potential to affect everyone who uses the substance – even your loved ones. This is the story of millions of Americans who have struggled with opioid addiction.

Some are more predisposed than others to develop an addiction to opioids, mostly due to environmental risk factors such as:

  • Socioeconomic status
  • Family and/or personal history of substance abuse
  • Peer pressure
  • Unemployment
  • Underlying mental disorders, including depression and anxiety
  • Association with other individuals who use opioids
  • Stress

Opioids are a potentially dangerous substance that carries the risk of the following adverse side effects, which may be exacerbated when an individual is addicted to the substance and using a large amount over a long period of time:

  • Slowed breathing
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Constipation
  • Sedation
  • Itching
  • Dry mouth
  • Impaired cognition
  • Depression
  • Dizziness
  • Lowered libido
  • Increased pain sensitivity
  • Coma

So, why are opioids addictive? Essentially, it is their very nature. Their pharmacology, coupled with increased risk factors and overprescription, create the perfect storm of a high potential for abuse and addiction.

How is opioid addiction treated?

Once an individual has decided they are ready to begin treatment for their opioid addiction, the first step is typically to detoxify the body from any substances. Withdrawing from opioids can lead to uncomfortable side effects – diarrhea, gastrointestinal issues, nausea, vomiting, sweating, muscle aches, insomnia, fatigue, irritability and anxiety – which can lead to individuals relapsing in the hopes of being relieved from withdrawal symptoms. To truly begin the road to recovery, the body must withdraw completely from opioids so that the mind can begin to heal.

Silver Ridge Recovery takes a holistic approach to addiction treatment. We believe that mind, body, and spirit must all be healed in order to achieve recovery. Medication-assisted treatment, recreational therapy, mindfulness and meditation, and trauma-sensitive yoga are all effective modalities for sustaining recovery in the long term. Get help today by calling 855-945-7788.