The Nature of Opiate Addiction

By Lyn has years of experience relating to addiction and recovery. She earned her Master's of Social Work (MSW) and also a Masters of Arts (MA) in psychology and social work from California State University-Sacramento.

Sober Recovery Expert Author

In the U.S., more than 210 million prescription opiates are dispensed every year and until recently these prescriptions were shockingly easy to obtain. Opioid medications vary from natural, semi-synthetic and fully synthetic. They are commonly prescribed to treat severe pain or chronic pain.

The following drugs are classified as prescription opioids:

  • Hydrocodone - Vicodin/Lortab
  • Oxycodone – Oxycontin/Percocet
  • Codeine
  • Fentanyl
  • Darvon
  • Hydromorphone - Dilaudid
  • Heroin
  • Morphine

While most people who take opioids for a short time under the supervision of a medical profession are able to get off of the drug, those who use prescription opioids on an ongoing basis for any substantial length of time run the risk of addiction. Dependence and addictions means that a person will first develop a tolerance for the drug so that he or she must take more of it in order to get the same effect. Then, once the individual is routinely taking more of the drug to achieve the same effect, physical and psychological dependence—or addiction—occurs.

My Story

The first time I ever took Vicodin for an injury I fell in love. I felt relief from not only physical pain, but all pain. This included the stress, depression and anger I had been living with for several years. I thought to myself, “This is what it feels like to be happy.” I believed that everyone else got to feel that warm happy feeling every day and that somehow I had been cheated out of the emotion.

If you are aware of the symptoms of opiate addiction, you can detect potential problems and get you or a loved one help before it’s too late.

Two weeks after I started taking opiates, I was hooked. It was all I lived for. My first thought every morning was, “How am I going to get more?” A good portion of my day was then allocated to finding a way to get more pills. In fact, I went to extreme lengths to get prescriptions. Doctor shopping, faking injuries, even asking people if they had any pain medicine, became a daily occurrence. Each attempt worked in the beginning, but the more I found myself needing the pills, the less options I seemed to have, and the pool of people that I could go to began to shrink.

If you are aware of the symptoms of opiate addiction, you can detect potential problems and get you or a loved one help before it’s too late.

The symptoms can be classified into 3 sections:

Psychological symptoms (changes in mood)

  • Euphoria
  • Anxiety
  • Confusion
  • Poor Judgement
  • Inability to plan
  • Poor concentration/attention
  • Memory problems

Physiological symptoms (physical problems)

  • Craving for the drug
  • Sedation
  • Numbness
  • Sleepiness
  • Nausea, vomiting (early stages of addiction)
  • Small pupils
  • Nausea, vomiting
  • Flushed skin and/or rashes
  • Itching
  • Constipation
  • Slurred speech
  • Inability to sleep

Behavioral Symptoms (how a person acts)

  • Opiates are taken more often than prescribed
  • Opiates are taken at a higher dose than prescribed
  • Needs early refills
  • The person tries to cut down unsuccessfully
  • The person begins to spend a lot of time obtaining the drug.
  • Continues to use the drug despite negative consequences.
  • Seeing more than 1 doctor
  • Seeks opioids from other sources
  • Social withdrawal

Withdrawal symptoms are more difficult to hide and they mimic flu symptoms. If you suspect someone is addicted to opiates you can watch for signs of withdrawal. Eventually they will run out of the drug and will begin the early stages of withdrawal. The symptoms can also be broken into 2 sections.

Physiological Symptoms

  • Sweating
  • Rapid breathing
  • Excessive yawning
  • Goosebumps/chills
  • Vomiting
  • Abdominal cramps
  • Confusion
  • Tremors
  • Loss of appetite

Behavioral Symptoms

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Irritability
  • Intolerable drug cravings
  • Confusion/disorientation

I, myself, had all the signs of opiate addiction, but no one knew what to look for, and I had to fall deep into a mess before someone finally intervened.

Nature of the Beast

It seems like the numerous and ongoing negative effects of opiate abuse would be enough for someone to stop the use of opiates. However, the nature of addiction does not make it that easy. The physical and psychological hold has an iron grip on you and willpower doesn’t have a chance of winning.

Many addicts are unwilling to seek help themselves and often reject help from loved ones. Most likely the addicted person will try to convince you they don’t have a problem or try to justify their use.

Sometimes you need a professional to help intervene and get the person the help they need. Don’t give up. Recovery is possible.

Are you or someone you love ready to get help? Browse our directory of opiate and detox treatment centers or call 800-772-8219 to inquire about addiction specialists in your area.

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