Massachusetts Center for Addiction

Opioid Addiction


Quick Summary

Opioid addiction is a serious problem affecting people all over the world. This addiction is mainly caused by misusing prescription painkillers or taking drugs like heroin and fentanyl. There are many factors, including biological, psychological, and social ones, that can lead someone to develop an opioid use disorder (OUD). It’s very important to get help from medical professionals to recover from and prevent opioid addiction.

Opioid addiction is a tough battle faced by many people around the world. This issue often starts with a simple prescription for pain but can turn into a dangerous habit involving drugs like heroin or fentanyl.

People from all walks of life can find themselves caught in the grip of addiction. Getting the right help and understanding how to prevent and recover from this addiction is a big step towards tackling this problem. The journey might be hard, but with the right support, overcoming opioid addiction is a hopeful prospect.

Opioid Addiction and Misuse

The misuse of prescription opioids has led to increased use of heroin and illicit synthetic opioids. These drugs are more potent and lethal due to their addictiveness.

When you use opioids, you should be aware of the symptoms and risk factors associated with addiction. Symptoms of opioid intoxication include small or constricted pupils, drowsiness, and slowed breathing. Various factors can increase your risk of opioid misuse, addiction, or overdose. Knowing these risk factors can help you manage your opioid use more responsibly.

These risk factors include:

  • Personal or family history of substance abuse

  • Mental health conditions, such as depression or anxiety

  • Taking high dosages of opioids

  • Combining opioids with other substances

  • Inconsistent or unmonitored use of prescribed opioids

It’s essential to differentiate between illegal and legal opioids to better understand their potential for misuse and addiction. Prescription opioids are classified as Schedule II drugs. This means they hold a high potential for misuse, dependency, and addiction.

Heroin is an illegal drug. It is highly addictive and has no medical benefits. Because of this, it is classified as a Schedule I controlled substance.

Knowing the signs of opioid addiction can help you determine if you or someone you know requires assistance with addiction. It is important to seek help early in such cases. Addiction treatment options vary based on severity and can include therapy, medication-assisted treatment (MAT), or support groups.

Opioid Use Disorder (OUD)

Opioid Use Disorder (OUD) is a mental health problem. It occurs when using opioids in a harmful way affects your daily life. This disorder can exist on a spectrum, ranging from mild to severe. When struggling with OUD, you may experience cravings, develop tolerance, or experience physical dependence on opioids.

Cravings and Opioid Use

Cravings often drive individuals to use opioids again, even after trying to quit or cut down. Numerous factors, such as stress, environmental cues, or physical needs, can trigger these intense desires to use the drug.

As you develop a tolerance to opioids, you may need increasing amounts of the drug to achieve the same effects. This creates a dangerous cycle of escalating use, posing significant risks to your health.

The Dangers of Tolerance

Tolerance is your body’s adaptation to opioids, resulting in diminished effects over time. As tolerance grows, you may need higher doses of the drug to get the desired results or avoid withdrawal symptoms. This increased opioid consumption can lead to a higher risk of overdose, addiction, and other long-term health consequences.

Physical Dependence on Opioids

Physical dependence is another aspect of OUD. It occurs when your body relies on opioids to maintain a sense of normalcy. If you suddenly stop using the drug, you will likely experience withdrawal symptoms.

Some common withdrawal symptoms associated with opioids include muscle aches, vomiting, diarrhea, and insomnia. You should seek professional help to manage the symptoms of physical dependence.

Types of Opioids

There are several types of opioids, varying in strength and origin. You may come across prescription opioids, such as hydrocodone and oxycodone, and illegal opioids, like heroin. 

Prescription Opioids: These are prescribed by doctors for moderate to severe pain relief. Some common prescription opioids include:

  • Hydrocodone (e.g., Vicodin): A semi-synthetic opioid derived from codeine, often prescribed for dental and injury-related pain.

  • Oxycodone (e.g., OxyContin and Percocet): Another semi-synthetic opioid used for more severe pain management.

  • Codeine: A naturally occurring opioid found in the opium poppy plant, typically used for mild to moderate pain relief.

  • Morphine: A natural opioid derived from the opium poppy plant. It is known for its use in severe pain management, such as during surgery or advanced cancer care.

Fentanyl: This is a synthetic opioid that is 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine. It has medical uses, such as in surgery or severe cancer pain. However, it also contributes to the opioid crisis as an illegal drug. This drug is sometimes mixed with other opioids or substances like heroin.

Heroin is an illegal opioid derived from morphine, primarily used for its euphoric effects. It is typically injected, smoked, or snorted and has no legitimate medical use.

Remember, some opioids can help with pain when used correctly, but all of them can be addictive and misused. Always consult your doctor for proper guidance, and be cautious about the inherent risks associated with opioids.

Health Impacts of Opioid Addiction

Opioid addiction can severely affect your health in the short and long term. When you misuse opioids, your brain chemistry changes, which can lead to dependence and a high risk of overdose. It’s essential to be aware of these impacts to ensure your well-being.

One of the main concerns with opioid addiction is the risk of overdose. The use of opioids, particularly in high doses, can depress your central nervous system. This leads to slowed or stopped breathing, unconsciousness, and even death. This risk is even more significant when opioids are combined with other substances, such as alcohol or sedatives.

As your brain becomes dependent on opioids, trying to quit can lead to severe withdrawal symptoms. These may include nausea, diarrhea, and constipation, among others. Withdrawal can be challenging to manage. It’s important to seek medical assistance during this phase, as it can be dangerous without proper support.

Additionally, the long-term effects of opioid addiction can harm your mental health. Chronic opioid use can result in cognitive impairment, anxiety, and depression. These mental health effects can persist even after you stop using opioids. It may require professional intervention to overcome.

Using opioids for chronic pain can worsen the pain over time. This is known as opioid-induced hyperalgesia. It can leave you feeling more pain rather than less, making managing your chronic pain condition even harder.

Treatment and Care for Opioid Addiction

When treating and caring for opioid addiction, it’s important to remember that recovery is possible. Evidence-based approaches to treating opioid addiction include medications and combining medications with behavioral therapy. Incorporating a treatment plan with medication for opioid addiction increases the chance of success.

Medications that have proven effective in treating opioid addiction include buprenorphine, methadone, and naltrexone. A National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) study found that starting a treatment with either a mix of buprenorphine and naloxone or a slow-release form of naltrexone can be equally effective. However, because naltrexone requires full detoxification, initiating treatment among active users becomes more difficult.

Healthcare providers offer medication-assisted treatment (MAT) to expand access to effective care. This comprehensive method combines medication with counseling and behavioral therapies. MAT addresses individual needs, providing patients with a well-rounded approach to treatment.

Choosing the right treatment is key to successfully recovering from opioid addiction. Follow your treatment plan, go to therapy, and work with your healthcare provider to manage your opioid use disorder. Remember, the road to recovery is different for everyone. Finding a treatment plan tailored to your needs helps you maintain long-term sobriety.

Opioid Epidemic in the United States

The opioid epidemic in the United States is a serious public health crisis. In recent years, there has been a sharp increase in the number of opioid-related overdoses and deaths.

The epidemic has several causes. One is the misuse of prescription painkillers. Another is the use of illegal drugs like heroin. Lastly, synthetic opioids like fentanyl also contribute to the problem.

Between 1999 and 2020, more than 564,000 people died from an overdose involving any opioid, including prescription and illicit opioids. In 2020 alone, nearly 75% of drug overdose deaths involved an opioid.

The big increase in opioid overdoses shows the urgent need for better ways to prevent and treat this problem.

To better understand the factors contributing to the opioid crisis, it’s helpful to consider the three waves of opioid overdose deaths:

  1. The first wave began in the 1990s with the increased prescribing of opioid painkillers, leading to widespread misuse and addiction.

  2. The second wave emerged in 2010, marked by a surge in heroin-related overdose deaths as some people addicted to prescription opioids turned to illicit drugs.

  3. The third wave began in 2013, fueled by the rise in synthetic opioid overdose deaths, particularly those involving fentanyl. This drug is significantly more potent and dangerous than other opioids.

In response to the opioid epidemic, the United States has implemented numerous strategies and policies to reduce opioid addiction and overdose deaths. Efforts to assist individuals with addiction include increasing access to treatment and recovery services. Additionally, there is a push to promote using naloxone to reverse overdoses. 

The Stigma Surrounding Opioid Addiction

Unfortunately, the stigma surrounding opioid addiction often creates additional barriers for those seeking help and recovery.

Knowing where this stigma comes from and how it affects people is important for dealing with the ongoing opioid crisis.

Misconceptions About Addiction

One of the main factors contributing to the stigma against opioid addiction is the misconceptions around addiction as a choice or moral failing rather than recognizing it as a medical condition. This viewpoint often leads to negative assumptions about people with opioid use disorder (OUD). It can cause them to be perceived as irresponsible or blameworthy.

Public Fear and Distrust

Another aspect of this stigma is the public’s fear and distrust of drug-use behaviors. Those who inject opioids tend to be most stigmatized, as intravenous drug use is associated with negative public attitudes and greater barriers to accessing health services. As a result, people with OUD might be reluctant to seek medical care or disclose their addiction to healthcare professionals.

The Role of Language in Stigma

Language plays a significant role in perpetuating the stigma around opioid addiction. Using derogatory terms or labels for people with OUD can deepen existing biases and misconceptions. By choosing words carefully and using person-first language (e.g., “person with opioid use disorder” instead of “addict”), you can help reduce stigmatizing attitudes.

Stigma and the Criminalization of Drug Use

Finally, opioid addiction stigma can be reinforced by the criminalization of drug use. Punitive measures, rather than focusing on treatment and harm reduction approaches, contribute to the perception of drug users as deviants or criminals. This type of stigma can negatively impact treatment outcomes for those seeking help with their addiction.

Getting Help with Massachusetts Center for Addiction

If you or someone you know is struggling with opioid addiction, the Massachusetts Center for Addiction is a great resource for finding the help needed. They offer a variety of evidence-based treatment programs tailored to the individual’s needs.

Their addiction treatment programs include partial hospitalization, intensive outpatient, and other treatment options. By offering these different levels of care, they can address the varying requirements and challenges you might face in your journey toward recovery. Additionally, you can benefit from extra support services provided at the center to strengthen your recovery further.

The Massachusetts Center for Addiction is in Quincy, MA, and has a team of compassionate, caring professionals dedicated to helping individuals overcome addiction. The center has a strong recovery community, increasing the chances of success in combating addiction.

Support groups are an essential part of your recovery process. They offer encouragement, understanding, and accountability, aiding you in overcoming addiction. The center can help you find and join appropriate support groups suited to your needs and preferences.

Remember, opioid addiction is a serious problem, but you don’t have to face it alone. The Massachusetts Center for Addiction is here to help you throughout your recovery journey. Reach out to them at (844) 486-0671.