Opiate Addiction and Abuse

Opiates are narcotics, and drugs in this category tend to make the user feel sleepy (downers), as opposed to energized (uppers). Many are powerful and can severely "numb" the user.

As medication, opiates are used to relieve moderate to severe pain. The term opiate refers to any of the narcotic alkaloids found in opium, as well as all derivatives of such alkaloids.

Common Opiate Use

People with chronic pain, cancer, or who are recovering from surgery may be prescribed these medications. Opiates include such prescription medications as:

  • Codeine
  • Morphine
  • Oxycodone
  • Oxycontin
  • Percocet
  • Percodan
  • Ultram
  • Vicodin

What is Opiate Addiction?

A person has an opiate addiction when they develop a dependence on the medication. They continue to take the medication to avoid going through opiate withdrawal symptoms or because they want to continue to experience the euphoric effects of the drug.  

Signs of Opiate Dependence

Signs of addiction to opiates include:

  • Having to take larger doses of the medication to get the desired effect
  • Spending a lot of time focusing on the drug, using it and being able to take it again and again
  • Depression and/or suicidal thoughts
  • Unkempt physical appearance, including weight loss in some cases
  • Social withdrawal

Causes of Dependency

Opiate addicts get hooked on the medication because of the way it acts on the user's brain. If the drug is used regularly and to excess, the brain stops producing natural painkillers called endorphins. As a result, the person who is addicted to opiates experiences a physical dependence on the drug.

Effects of Use

Opiate addicts use the drug to feel a sense of well-being that comes in a rush after the drug is taken. After this initial feeling of euphoria, the user goes through alternate periods of feeling alert and then drowsy. Using opiates affects the user's ability to reason clearly. Respiration slows, and reflexes are impaired.

Complications and Long Term Effects of Opiate Abuse

Whenever someone uses opiates and develops a tolerance for the drug, the possibility of a drug overdose is always a concern. Be alert for these signs and call 9-1-1 or your local emergency number if you notice them:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Fingertips and lips turn blue
  • Shallow breathing
  • Weak pulse

Over the long term, opium addicts may display these kinds of symptoms:

  • Collapsed veins (if the drug is being injected)
  • Refusing to eat
  • Ignoring basic personal hygiene
  • Liver disease
  • Pneumonia

Help and Treatment for Opiate Addiction

A drug detox and rehab facility can help an opium addict get free from the drug. Opium withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Aches and pains
  • Chills
  • Cravings for the drug
  • Insomnia
  • Nausea
  • Restlessness
  • Vomiting

For most people, the withdrawal symptoms subside within seven days. Since an addict's health may already be compromised after long-term use, getting drug abuse help by checking into an opiate addiction treatment facility is a good choice. That way, the person's condition can be monitored closely while they are going through the process of ridding their body of the drug. 

There are a number of rehab clinics that offer services to people who are trying to break the cycle of addiction to opiates. Many of these facilties, such as Narconon, have web sites where you can get information about the services offered and the approach the facility takes to helping people learn how to quit using opiates.

Beyond Quitting: Opiate Recovery and Rehabilitation

Detox and quitting are only the first steps; an individual must also get help to deal with the reasons why they became addicted to opiates in the first place. Opiate treatment must include this element, or the person is at increased risk for a relapse. Part of opiate drug rehabilitation is teaching the addict that even though they have quit opiates, they need to learn new patterns of behavior to replace their former ways.

More Resources:

Forum Boards for discussing the various opioids: Codeine, Fentanyl, Heroin, Morphine, Opium, Oxycodone, Percocet, Vicodin

Opiate Photos: