Opiates Addiction and Abuse

What are Opiates?

There are a wide variety of drugs that are classified as opiates. These include illegal drugs such as heroin and opium, and prescription drugs like codeine, fentanyl, and morphine.

The terms‘opiate’and ‘opioid’ are often used interchangeably, but there is a difference between the two. Opiates are drugs that are naturally derived from the opium poppy and possess its active narcotic components. Opioids, on the other hand, include drugs that are naturally derived, as well as synthetic and semi-synthetic drugs, that simulate the effects of the active components of the opium poppy.

Uses of Opiates

Opiates are generally prescribed for the treatment and management of mild to severe pain, especially pain that is a result of serious injury, surgery, or for some other source of chronic pain. Opiates can also be prescribed to individuals with terminal cancer or another type of terminal illness.

While opiates may be extremely useful for clinical purposes, the drug has the downside of being extremely addictive. Opiates have such a high potential of abuse and addiction that, even if using the drug strictly according to prescription, physical dependence and addiction may still occur. Commonly prescribed opiates include methadone, morphine, and codeine.

On the other hand, illegal street opiates that are commonly abused include heroin and opium. Prescription opiates are typically administered orally in pill form, while heroin (an illicit opiate) is typically administered intravenously, or by snorting or smoking it.

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Why are Opiates Addictive?

Opiates have a high potential for abuse and are extremely addictive. When you consume an opiate, the drug goes into your bloodstream, where it floods your body with unnaturally high levels of endorphins and dopamine. This sudden increase in dopamine and endorphins results in you experiencing a rush of pleasure, euphoria, and other pleasant sensations.

While endorphins are typically naturally occurring in the human body, the sensation of using opiates is significantly different and more intense than what can be obtained from a natural rush of endorphins. The feeling of pleasure from using opiates is what causes people to abuse the drug recreationally and continue abusing it to experience its pleasurable effects.

Continuous use or abuse of opiate over an extended period will lead to your body stopping its own natural production of dopamine and endorphins. This will result in your body becoming dependent on the drug to produce these hormones. The result of this is a dependence on opiates to experience feelings of pleasure. That is, without using drugs, a dependent individual will be unable to manufacture dopamine and endorphins and will thus be unable to experience pleasure. This is referred to as Anhedonia.

Before physical dependence occurs, you will first experience an increased tolerance to the drug’s effects. That is, you will need increasingly larger doses of the drug to experience the desired effects. After tolerance and continued use of the drug, physical dependence will occur and, without the presence of the drug in your system, you will experience withdrawal symptoms.

Psychological dependence may also follow, which is characterized by mental cravings for opiates that takes precedence over everything else in your life.

Signs and Symptoms of Opiate Abuse

Symptoms of opiate abuse can be physical or psychological in nature.

Physical signs

  • Confusion
  • Diarrhoea
  • Sweating
  • Constipation
  • Headache
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Fatigue
  • Constricted pupils
  • Intermittent nodding off, or loss of consciousness
  • Marked sedation/drowsiness
  • Noticeable elation/euphoria
  • Slowed breathing

Psychological or behavioural symptoms

  • Social withdrawal/isolation
  • Doctor shopping (getting multiple prescriptions from different doctors)
  • Sudden mood swings
  • Extra pill bottles turning up in the trash
  • Sudden financial problems
  • Anxiety
  • Inability to sleep

Most Commonly Abused Opiates

Below is a comprehensive list of commonly abused opiates.


Tramadol is a painkiller and opioid analgesic typically prescribed for the treatment of moderate to moderately severe pain. Its use is generally considered to be safer than administration of narcotic analgesics like hydrocodone and methadone for pain relief. Nonetheless, Tramadol has a high potential for abuse and is commonly abused for its pleasurable effects.

In high doses, Tramadol can produce euphoric and mood-enhancing effects. But continuous abuse in high doses places you at the risk of seizures and convulsions.


Demerol is a type of morphine that is used to treat acute episodes of moderate to severe pain. The drug can be referred to as a narcotic analgesic, as it causes a variety of actions that affect both the body and brain. Demerol’s therapeutic value as a sedative and analgesic is only visible when used in appropriate doses. If abused, the effects of Demerol are dangerous and can easily lead to:

  • Tolerance
  • Physical dependence
  • Withdrawal symptoms when not using the drug
  • Potentially fatal respiratory depression
  • Overdose
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Because of its potency, and because it’s a type of morphine, Demerol is not meant to be used long term. For safety’s sake, the drug should not be used for more than 12 weeks. People who abuse Demerol recreationally consume the drug by chewing, snorting, crushing, or dissolving and injecting it. Regardless of how Demerol is consumed, its potential for addiction is high.

Hydrocodone (Vicodin)

Vicodin is a very commonly abused opiate. Hydrocodone medication is the most popularly prescribed drug in the US. The drug is an opioid and can be classified as a narcotic analgesic. As an opioid, Hydrocodone interferes with pain signals in the brain and leads to a change in the emotional reaction and the brain’s perception of pain.

Hydrocodone is commonly prescribed as a pain reliever and can be found being marketed under the popular brand name Vicodin (a combination of hydrocodone and acetaminophen). Due to its potency, Hydrocodone is a habit-forming drug. Even if used according to prescription, the risk of developing a dependence on Hydrocodone is still high.

A number of people addicted to Hydrocodone started out using the drug as a treatment for managing pain and, along the way, became addicted to its euphoric effects. Use of the drug over a period of time will eventually lead to tolerance. Increased tolerance implies your body will require higher doses of the drug to feel the desired effects.


Norco is a combination of hydrocodone and acetaminophen. It is a prescription medication typically administered for the relief of moderate to severe pain. But, because of its potency, using Norco recreationally or in amounts that exceed prescribed dose or length of prescribed use can easily result in tolerance and the development of an addiction.

Norco is so potent that it can even lead to dependence if used according to prescription. The drug is typically abused for its euphoric high, which can last for several hours.

Opiate Patches

Opiate patches are for the treatment of severe pain, especially for individuals receiving around the clock opioid pain treatment. The opiate patch alters the way the brain feels and responds to pain. The content of the patch is absorbed directly through the skin, where it builds up before it’s released. The objective of an opiate patch is to release the drug slowly into your body.

There is a common misconception that abusing opiate patches is impossible because of the controlled manner in which the drug is released into the system. This isn’t true. For instance, opiate patches can be abused by changing the patch out more often than prescribed or wearing multiple patches at a time.


Heroin is not a prescription drug and is an illegal, synthesised type of morphine. Heroin can be injected, smoked or snorted, and along with the dangers of the drug itself, it’s also particularly dangerous because of the risk of it being cut with other substances.


Another one of the most abused opiates is morphine. Morphine is a painkiller extracted from the poppy plant, and it’s often used in medical settings and given orally or intravenously.


Codeine is a legal drug with widespread medical usage. However, it is also a narcotic and is one of the most commonly abused opiates. Addiction to codeine is widespread and affects people of all races and ages.

As an opiate drug, codeine can be found in prescription-strength cough syrups.  It is typically prescribed for the treatment of pain and coughing. But it is also recreationally abused for the following effects:

  • Feelings of relaxation
  • Euphoria
  • Drowsiness
  • Slowed heart rate

The drug is highly addictive and its continued use, especially at high doses, can lead to dangerous side effects as well as withdrawal symptoms.

Oxycodone (OxyContin)

Oxycodone is a pain reliever typically prescribed for the management of moderate to severe pain. The drug can be found in a tablet form alone or in combination with other pain relievers. It is commonly marketed under brand names like OxyContin, OxyIR, OxyFast, Percodan (combination oxycodone and aspirin), and Percocet (combination oxycodone and acetaminophen).

Oxycodone maybe a synthetic drug but its effects on the body are similar to those of other legal and illegal opioids. And just like these opiate and opioid drugs, oxycodone can induce a powerful high. This effect makes the drug a potential substance of abuse and its recreational abuse is becoming alarmingly commonplace.

The continued abuse of Oxycodone puts you at high risk of developing a tolerance and eventually dependence. The risk of dependence is high regardless of if you are using the drug according to prescription or not. Statistics have also shown that those addicted to Oxycodone are 40 times more likely to develop a heroin abuse problem.

Hydromorphone (Dilaudid)

Hydromorphone is a partially synthetic opioid that is derived from morphine. Morphine on its own is a highly potent opioid but, as a synthetic opioid, Hydromorphone is far more potent. Hydromorphone is available for sale as extended-release tablets which can be prescribed for the management of chronic pain.

Hydromorphone addiction can occur very quickly regardless of if the drug is being used according to prescription or not. For this reason, doctors are cautious in prescribing the medication and only administering it if the patient is already taking another opioid. When Hydromorphone is used to replace another opioid, it is being used as a pain management replacement. The drug is mostly prescribed to people with cancer or similar severe health conditions. After continuous use of Hydromorphone, tolerance can develop in as little as two weeks. Once tolerance occurs, physical dependence is just a step away.


Fentanyl is a narcotic that is similar to heroin in how it affects the human body. It can be described as a potent opioid narcotic typically prescribed for the treatment of severe chronic pain. The drug is commonly abused because of its ability to induce intense pleasure when ingested or injected. Fentanyl has a high risk of abuse and can easily result in addiction if abused continuously over a short period. Once addiction occurs, you will need professional help to wean you off the drug and help you recover.

Fentanyl is legally available in injectable and oral forms, as well as a transdermal patch. Doctors prescribe Fentanyl only if a patient’s pain cannot be managed with a less potent medication. While Fentanyl is accessible legally only through prescription, accessing it illegally on the streets for recreational purposes is widespread.


Methadone is an approved drug for the treatment of opioid addiction and dependence. However, the medication can only help with overcoming an addiction if its use is adequately monitored and the drug is used precisely according to prescription. This is because methadone itself holds its potential for abuse and addiction. The likelihood of developing a methadone addiction is increased if the drug is used in combination with other opioids, benzodiazepines or alcohol, or if the drug is being abused recreationally.


Percocet is a prescription pain reliever that combines Oxycodone (an opioid analgesic) and Acetaminophen (a mild pain reliever). Percocet is typically prescribed to those with moderate to severe pain that is not chronic. The drug can induce short-term relief. But, like morphine and heroin, Percocet changes how the brain perceives pain and is also highly addictive.

If abused in large doses, Percocet can lead to experiencing a “high” that’s similar to that of heroin. You will experience euphoria, heightened pleasure, feelings of calmness and relaxation. While the drug is erroneously viewed as a safer way of getting high, it isn’t. Abusing it is, in fact, as dangerous as abusing heroin and cocaine. Percocet abuse will in time lead to problems of dependence and addiction.


Opium’s primary chemical component is morphine. The drug is an opioid analgesic drug typically prescribed for the treatment of severe or chronic pain. When administered, the drug will result in a high that includes reduced tension and feelings of euphoria. These pleasurable symptoms are what make morphine a popularly sought after substance of abuse.

Abusing morphine recreationally or using it contrary to as stated in your prescription can, within a short time, lead to developing a tolerance to the drug. If the abuse continues, physical dependence and possibly addiction will eventually occur. Even when morphine is used for legitimate medical reasons and according to prescription, there is still a likelihood of developing an addiction.


Heroin is illegal and highly addictive. The drug is derived from the opium of the poppy plant which can be refined into morphine, and further refined into heroin. Abusing heroin can, in the short term, result in pleasurable sensations, a warm and calm feeling, and an increased sense of confidence and well-being.

Heroin can be found on the street in some forms, such as a brown or white powder, solid black chunks, or a black sticky substance. Depending on its form, heroin can be injected, smoked, or snorted. Regardless of how it is used, heroin has a high abuse and addiction potential. The potential to overdose is also high, as the potency of each batch is unregulated.

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Opiate Abuse Treatment

Opiate abuse and addiction is an illness that should not be left untreated. However, there is no one size fits all approach to treating the opiate dependence of all addicts. Instead, addiction treatment will depend on the unique circumstances of your addiction and how you have been abusing the substance of abuse (frequency, dose, and if drugs were being combined). Generally, opiate addiction treatment will consist of detoxification, rehabilitation, counselling, recovery support, and pharmacological therapies (if necessary).

The addiction recovery care you need can be provided either through inpatient or outpatient programmes – it all depends on the severity of your addiction and your unique circumstances.

For instance, outpatient treatment will be sufficient if your opiate addiction isn’t severe and does not require round the clock care. Inpatient treatment, on the other hand, is better if your dependence is severe and you are experiencing intense withdrawal symptoms. This is because an inpatient facility provides around the clock nursing care, as well as a safe and conducive environment for recovery.

If you or a loved one have been abusing opiates, get help today by visiting a rehab centre, or call a confidential helpline for professional guidance on what your options are for treatment.


What Are Opiates?

Opiates are pain-relieving medications that are only prescribed in a hospital for the management of moderate to serious pain. However, they are highly addictive, because their efficacy is dependent on how they interact with the pleasure and satisfaction points in the brain. This means that even users with a legitimate need for opiates can become addicted, needing treatment and rehab to recover properly.

How are opiates used?

Opiates are generally taken orally, though some users also snort or inject the drugs in a bid to increase the time it takes for the substance to begin affecting the body.

What Do Opiates Look Like?

Opiates come in small pills of different colours and sizes. Most opiates manufacturers cut them into shapes according to strength, meaning pills for the same opiate can look different.

Are Opiates Harmful?

Yes. Like all other substances, opiate addiction will lead to harmful consequences for your body. Depressed breathing is one of the most dangerous effects of opiate abuse. When this happens, you could lose the function of organs like the kidney and heart.

Who Abuses Opiates?

There is no distinction between the demographics that abuse opiates. Addiction treatment centres around the world treat all kinds of opiates abusers. However, statistics show that millennials and younger professionals are more likely to become addicted to opiates of their own accord. Teenagers that are constantly seeking to satisfy curiosity are also targeted by sellers of illegal opiates in schools and other meeting places.

How Can I Spot Opiate Addiction?

Spotting opiate abuse is as simple as watching out for all the behavioural (as well as physical) signs and symptoms. It’s important to note that these are general signs that can also highlight the abuse of other non-opiate substances. As soon as you notice any of these signs and symptoms, set the wheels in motion to help the addict get treatment. The symptoms to watch out for are: frequent unexplained visits to different doctors, obtaining opiates under false pretences(or outright stealing), asking to borrow opiates for no reason, sudden change in disposition towards friends and family, unexplained financial problems and stashing opiates around the house.

Are Opiates Addictive?

Opiates are highly addictive. Some users become addicted to opiates within days of first using them.

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