Opioid Abuse Information

Understanding Opioid Addiction

Learn About Opioid Addiction & Abuse

Opioids are a category of substances that includes heroin and various types of prescription painkillers, such as codeine, morphine, fentanyl, Vicodin, and OxyContin, and many others. These substances work as central nervous system depressants that reduce an individual’s ability to feel pain while also inducing feelings of relaxation and an overall sense of wellbeing. Due to these properties, opioid prescription medications are frequently prescribed to help alleviate moderate to severe chronic or acute pain. Yet, while these drugs serve a very specific medical purpose for many individuals, they also possess highly addictive properties that can quickly ensnare individuals into ongoing patterns of substance abuse. Additionally, the pleasant feelings associated with the abuse of opioids can cause some individuals to begin taking them without having a medical need for doing so. Again, the highly addictive nature of these substances can then trap these individuals into patterns of drug abuse as well. Heroin, an illicit form of opioid, is likewise addictive and can wreak havoc on an individual’s life once the abuse of this substance has started.

Whenever individuals begin using opioids in a manner that elicits disturbances in their ability to function appropriately on a daily basis or in a manner that causes significant distress to their wellbeing, they have likely developed an addiction, or opioid use disorder, which most likely will require professional treatment to overcome. When this is the case, individuals may find themselves taking larger amounts of the substance than they had originally, or taking the substance over a longer period of time than they had originally intended. The destruction that the abuse of opioids inflicts on their lives can be significantly detrimental, yet people who have developed opioid use disorder may find that they are unable to cease their use.


Opioid Abuse Statistics

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), between 26 and 36 million people throughout the world abuse opioid substances. In America alone, NIDA reports that over 2 million individuals suffer from prescription opioid-related substance use disorders. The American Psychiatric Association (APA) reports that, in regards to opioid use disorders as a whole, the 12-month prevalence is estimated to be 0.37% of the adult population.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and Risk Factors for Opioid Abuse

When looking into the causes and risk factors that can make individuals susceptible to developing opioid use disorder, it is important to consider the following:

Genetic: Genetic factors play a highly significant role in enhancing an individual’s susceptibility to suffering from opioid use disorder, according to the APA. When there exists a family history of opioid abuse and addiction, individuals are more likely to suffer from the same type of addiction than are those who do not have the same type of hereditary background. Furthermore, certain personality traits and temperamental factors that contribute to the desire to abuse substances can be hereditary.

Risk Factors:

  • Family history of opioid abuse and addiction
  • Family or personal history of other types of substance abuse and addiction
  • Possessing an impulsive temperament or a novelty-seeking personality
  • Being surrounded by individuals who abuse opioids or other substances
  • Having easy access to opioid substances
  • Suffering from a medical condition that warrants receiving a prescription for opioid painkillers

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and Symptoms of Opioid Abuse

The signs and symptoms that may be displayed by someone who is abusing opioids will vary from person to person depending upon a number of factors, including the specific type of opioid that an individual is using. Examples of various symptoms that may be displayed by someone suffering from opioid use disorder are listed in the following:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Compulsive, prolonged use of opioids
  • Engaging in drug-related crimes
  • No longer taking part in activities that one once enjoyed or deemed important
  • Withdrawing from family and friends
  • Using opioids in situations that are hazardous, such as driving while impaired
  • No longer fulfilling obligations at home
  • Demonstrating a declined performance in work or school
  • Slurred speech
  • Visiting multiple doctors in order to receive multiple painkiller prescriptions

Physical symptoms:

  • Insomnia
  • Drowsiness
  • Pupillary constriction
  • Psychomotor agitation
  • Psychomotor retardation

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Impaired judgment
  • Memory impairment
  • Attention and concentration difficulties
  • Cravings for continued opioid use
  • Suicidal ideation

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Euphoria followed by apathy
  • Depression
  • No longer finding interest in things that one was once highly interested in


Effects of Opioid Abuse

The abuse of opioids can cause individuals to experience a number of detrimental effects, which may include, but are certainly not limited to, the following:

  • Dry mouth and nose
  • Slowing of gastrointestinal activity / constipation
  • Impaired visual acuity
  • Track marks or sclerosed veins in individuals who inject the drug
  • Increased risk for contracting infections like HIV/AIDS or hepatitis C
  • Relationship disturbances / marital strife / familial discord
  • Academic or occupational failure
  • Homelessness
  • Financial instability
  • Legal problems due to engaging in criminal behavior
  • Heightened risk for suicide attempts and completed suicides
  • Suffering from anoxia, or a deficiency in the amount of oxygen reaching the body’s tissues

Co-Occurring Disorders

Opioid Abuse & Co-Occurring Disorders

Those who struggle with an addiction to opioids often battle symptoms of other mental health conditions as well. Examples of various co-occurring disorders that can exist alongside opioid use disorder include:

  • Major depressive disorder
  • Persistent depressive disorder
  • Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Alcohol use disorder
  • Stimulant use disorder
  • Other substance use disorders

Withdrawal and Overdose

Effects of Opioid Withdrawal and Overdose

Effects of opioid withdrawal: When individuals have partaken in a prolonged pattern of opioid abuse but then put an end to their use of this substance, they will likely experience a painful period of withdrawal as their bodies become used to the absence of the drug. Examples of various signs and effects that can arise during this withdrawal period can include:

  • Insomnia
  • Dysphoric mood (feeling in a constant state of unease)
  • Fever
  • Diarrhea
  • Muscle aches
  • Sweating
  • Pupil dilation
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Uncontrollable flowing of tears
  • Excessive yawning

Effects of opioid overdose: When opioids are consumed to such an extent that the user’s body becomes incapable of metabolizing them, he or she is at risk for experiencing an overdose. When opioids are taken chronically, they cause users to develop tolerance, meaning that their bodies need more of the substance in order to achieve the same pleasurable effects. As individuals consistently increase the amount of opioids that they are taking in order to achieve their desired high, the greater their risk for overdosing becomes. Warning signs that could indicate that someone has overdosed on opioids may include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Shallowed or labored breathing
  • Severe dizziness
  • Significantly slurred speech
  • Extreme confusion
  • Headache
  • Cold, clammy skin
  • Sudden sleepiness
  • Seizures

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