Opiates are a class of drugs that depress the central nervous system to relieve pain. They also create feelings of drowsiness and euphoria. A natural opiate originates from the opium poppy, but synthetic opiates are created in a laboratory. Hundreds of millions of opiate prescriptions are written each year.

States have tightened their restrictions on prescription opioids in the past few years, but opioid use is still a national and even global problem. Over 2 million people in the United States are addicted to prescription painkillers, and close to 500,000 people are addicted to heroin. Overdoses resulting in death have also almost tripled this century.


Types of Opiates

  • Natural Opioids – include nitrogen-based chemical compounds that occurs in plants, such as the poppy. They include drugs such as codeine, morphine, and thebaine.
  •  Semi-synthetic Opioids- are created in laboratories from naturally occurring opiates. They include hydrocodone, oxycodone (OxyContin), and heroin.
  •  Synthetic Opioids – include completely manmade opioids and include drugs such as methadone, fentanyl, tramadol, and pethidine.

People who use prescription opioids are at risk for addiction. If highly dependent, they may resort to methods which enhance the high of the drug, such as injecting, snorting crushed pills, or using pills with other substances. People often begin to crush or inject the drugs because they have developed a tolerance for the drug, which means they require a higher dose to accomplish the same euphoria. People are at risk for addiction when they do not take the medication as directed by a doctor. However, it is possible to become addicted even when taking the prescribed amount. Therefore, constant communication with your doctor who has prescribed the painkiller is imperative.

When a prescription ends or a person is unable to obtain more of the painkiller, people sometimes move from abusing prescription drugs to using heroin. Because the illicit drug is cheaper and easier to find than prescription drugs, heroin use in the United States has doubled in the past ten years, extending its reach from cities and into rural communities.


Signs of Opioid Addiction

Using prescription or illegal opiates for more than a few days can put you at risk of addiction. The first sign of addiction is tolerance, meaning that it takes a larger amount of the drug to produce the same results. Other signs might include symptoms of withdrawal when you stop use of the drug or an obsession with obtaining more of the substance. Also, if you find yourself shopping around for more doctors to prescribe you the painkiller, then you are probably already addicted. Other signs to look for include:

  • Irritability
  • Drowsiness
  • Mood swings
  • Borrowing or stealing money
  • Work, school, or relationship problems

Using opiates can cause delayed reaction times and sedation. Long-term use can include damage to the immune system, gastrointestinal problems, respiratory problems, and blood disorders.

Article continues below

Concerned you might be addicted to opiods?

Take our 2-minute opoid addiction test to determine if you might be addicted to opiods.

Take Opiod Addiction Quiz

Getting Treatment for Opiate Abuse

Opiate rehab typically includes detoxification, psychotherapy, and supported recovery. Detox involves withdrawing from the drug, often slowly with the use of medication. If you’re detoxing from powerful opiates, you’ll likely be prescribed a drug such as methadone to ease the transition. This can be especially helpful in if a person experiences chronic pain, as it reduces the amount of sedation and eliminates the euphoria produced by a heroin or morphine dose.


What Can You Do Today? 

  • Be honest. Lying or underestimating the extent of your dependence won’t help you. Talk to your doctor or a professional counselor what you’re taking and your symptoms of dependence.
  • Find your supports. Tell your friends and family members that you need help. Chances are, there is also a network of resources in the community there to help you. Don’t assume that you can’t afford or can’t benefit from these resources until you try them.
  • Prepare for withdrawal. Halting opiate use can sometimes cause extreme withdrawal symptoms. This is why it’s vital to get the medical treatment you need to help you get the drug out of your system.
  • Find peers who relate. Recovery groups remain powerful influences in the lives of those who struggle with opioid use. Never assume that there aren’t people who can’t relate to your own mistakes or choices when it comes to drug use.

If you or someone you know is hooked on prescription painkillers or other opioids, get the help you need today. Help is available, so take the first step towards living a life free of opioids.

Last Updated: May 14, 2021