Opiate Addiction and Abuse

An intro to opiates vs. opioids with an explanation about why they are so addictive.

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ARTICLE OVERVIEW: Opiates are highly addictive drugs. Learn about these drugs, their effects, and how they are commonly abused here.



Understanding Opiates: What are Opiates?

Opiates are used to treat pain or cause sleep. They are called “opiates” because they are in a class of drugs derived from the opium poppy flower.This includes both opiates derived naturally and opiates synthetically manufactured, sometimes called “opioids”.

Opiates work by binding to opioid receptors in the brain and produce feeling of pleasure, pain relief, relaxation and euphoria. [1]Their pleasurable effects and painkilling capacities make them one of the most addictive drugs in the U.S. In fact, opiate addiction has reached epidemic levels in recent years.

If you’re struggling with an opiate, know that treatment can help. You are not alone. Call us to learn about how American Addiction Centers changes lives. Rehab can give you back the life that you deserve.

Types of Opiates

Most opiates are addictive. But some are used to treat addiction. They are called “antagonist opiates”. Antagonist opiates don’t activate the opioid receptors in the brain. Instead, they attach to them and block out agonist opiates. In this way, they help in the addiction treatment process to address cravings and withdrawal symptoms. Examples of antagonists include buprenorphine, naltrexone, and naloxone.


Buprenorphine is apotent and long-lasting semi-syntheticopioid analgesic used in detox for relieving withdrawal symptoms and cravings. It is a Schedule III drug with a potential for abuse.


Suboxone isthe brand name for a medication made of buprenorphine and naloxone. It is a semi-synthetic agonist antagonist prescription opioid. It is used to treat withdrawal symptoms and cravings as part of opioid addiction program. Long-term use may lead to dependence.

The addictive opiates are called “agonist opiates”. These drugs activate the opioid receptor in the brain and produce full effects of pain relief and the feeling of being high. They have high potential for abuse and addiction and are used for medical purposes. Examples include morphine, fentanyl, opium and heroin.The most common opiate agonists can be found in the list below.

Codeine is a natural alkaloid derived from opium. This prescription opiate analgesic is usually used for treating mild to moderate pain and to reduce coughing. Codeine has a high potential for abuse and prolonged use may lead to dependence and addiction.


Heroin is an illegal opiate obtained from the opium poppy plant. It is a highly addictive drug that can be smoked, snorted, or injected. Regular use can quickly cause tolerance and lead to addiction, in which case long-term treatment will be needed. One of the great dangers of heroin is an overdose.


Hydrocodone is a semi-synthetic opioid agonistand one of the most widely prescribed drugs in the U.S. It is used to treat moderate to severe pain and it changes the way the brain perceives pain. It is a highly addictive drug with huge potential for abuse. Taking hydrocodone withouta prescription or other than prescribed is illegal.


Methadone is a habit forming prescription opioid used in the treatment of narcotic addiction. It treats moderate and severe pain and also reduces cravings. The euphoric effect it produces makes it a potentially addictive substance.


Morphine is a naturally occurring alkaloid obtained from opium and prescribed as a relief for chronic pain. It has a high potential for abuse and addiction.


Oxycodone is a semi-synthetic opioid prescribed to treat pain. Long-term use can lead to physical and psychological addiction.Taking oxycodone without a prescription or other than prescribed is illegal.


Percocet is a Schedule II drug with a high potential for abuse and addiction. It is a combination of oxycodone and acetaminophen. It changes the way your brain feels and responds to pain and is used to treat moderate to severe pain.


Tramadol is an opioid painkiller effective for mild and moderate pain. Taking tramadol longer than prescribed and in large doses may lead to tolerance and dependence.

Opioids vs. Opiates

All opioids are opiates, but not vice versa. The terms opiates and opioids are often used interchangeably because they produce the same effects. Both are used medically and have a potential for addiction and abuse that can lead to life-threatening consequences.But the main difference between these two types of drugs is that opiates are natural and opioids are synthetic.


These are drugs derived naturally from the opium poppy plant. They attach to the opioid receptors in the body to create their effects. Heroin, morphine, codeine, and opium are examples of opiates.


These are synthetically-produced drugs that attach to opioid receptors in the brain and produce similar effects as opiates. Methadone, buprenorphine, hydrocodone, and oxycodone are examples of opioids.

No matter which term you use, remember that both can be abused and cause dependence. If you or a loved one has an opioid addiction don’t wait until it’s too late. Ask for help today.

Opiate Effects and Abuse

Opiates depresses the central nervous system, slow down bodily functions and produce feelings of pleasure and pain relief. Their ability to provide intense feelings of pleasure and reduce physical and psychological pain is what makes them highly addictive. [4]

They usually reach peak concentrations in the bloodstream within one or two hours of initial intake and can last up to six hours. The following effects can happen after you take an opiate:

– Drowsiness
– Nausea
– Shallow, slowed breathing
– Slowed heart rate
– Vomiting

Opiates can be generally safe when taken for short periods of time and as directed by a medical professional. But taking them more frequently and in larger does than prescribed can lead to dependence or addiction. Opioid abuse can be defined as:

“A chronic, relapsing brain disease that is characterized by compulsive drug seeking and use, despite harmful consequences and long-lasting changes in the brain”[5]

Opiate abuse can sometimes be difficult to recognize, especially in the early stages and that is why it’s important to know some signs and symptoms. Some of them include:

– Financial problems
– Losing interest in life
– Mood changes
– Visiting multiple doctors

These may only be early signs. If you don’t address them properly, an addiction can get worse. Opiate addiction can end in overdose. So, if you notice any of these symptoms in a family member or friend, help is available.Call us to learn how intervention can save a loved one’s life.

Opiate Abuse Statistics

11.1 million Americans misused pain killers in the past year.

46 people die every day due to prescription opioids overdose.

191 million prescriptions for opioids were written by doctors in 2017.

You probably know someone who is struggling with an opiate problem. Americans are being prescribed opiates with a rate unseen in U.S. history. The number of Americans using opiates and opioids has reached epidemic levels.In 2017, an estimated 1.7 million people aged 12 or older met criteria for diagnosing addiction to pain reliever medicines. [6]This is why, in 2017, the HHS declared the opioid use disorder a public health emergency. [7]

Living with addiction can ruin your health, your relationships, and your life. Maybe you have lost all hope, but there is a way out. At American Addiction Centers, we believe that recovery is possible for everyone. Our treatment centers offer a variety of evidence-based programs to help you achieve long-term recovery and get your life back. Make the first step and call us now!

Opiate Overdose

In 2017, there were over 70,000 drug overdose deaths in U.S. Of them, two-thirds were caused by opioids. [8] All opiates carry the risk of overdose, especially if mixed with other substances. This often is the case.

Watch out for the common symptoms of an opioid overdose:

– Blue or gray lips
– Blue fingernails
– Breathing and heartbeat slow or stops
– Unresponsiveness

Opiate addiction is a serious and potentially life-threating condition. [9] If left untreated, it can lead to numerous negative consequences in your life. You may even lose your life. Don’t wait another moment! Get help today!

Addiction to Opiates

Opiates carry a huge addictive potential. Taken as directed, they can effectively manage pain. If not taken as directed… misuse, addiction, and overdose can occur.Another danger is switching to heroin as a cheaper and easier alternative. In fact, nearly 80 % of people who use heroin first misused prescription opioids. [10]

Prolonged use of any opiate changes the chemistry in the brain. Over time, you need more of the drug to achieve the same effects. That is how tolerance develops. If you take opioids for an extended period of time you will become dependent. Genetic, psychological, and environmental factorsall play a role in how fast will that happen.

Do YOU have a problem? Maybe. Watch for signs like:

  • Cravings
  • Inability to stop using
  • Problems at homes, school, or work
  • Taking a painkiller in larger amounts
  • Taking the drug to get high

If you or someone you love is addicted to opiates you should act immediately. Getting beyond the excuses or denial can be difficult. We are here to guide you every step of the way. Call us and let’s start the journey to recovery together. We can ask some initial questions about the drug use … and set up a meeting with an interventionist. Or, we can help you verify your insurance benefits.

You can live a healthy and fulfilled life again.

Why wait?

Treatment for Opiate Addiction

There are numerous treatment options available, but inpatient rehab can be very successful when it comes to opiate addiction. At an inpatient rehab facility,you will receive treatment tailored to your needs. You will get medical detox that will help you with the cravings and withdrawal symptoms.You will receive counseling and behavioral therapy. 12-step programs and aftercare programs will be also a part of the program.

Never underestimate the power of addiction treatment. These services are important in the process of recovery. Addressing your addiction and receiving treatment will help you establish your self-esteem and belief in life again. Call us, and let’s explore treatment options together. You deserve a better life.

Get Help Today

Opiate addiction has destroyed lives. It’s taken the lives of many other. Don’t let that happen to you or to a loved one. Anyone is at risk of developing a problem.Treatment is available and it works. Act now before it’s too late. Get help today and call us to learn about your rehab options with American Addiction Centers.

Reference Source:[1] NCBI: Drugs of Abuse Opiates
[2] NCBI: Basic opioid pharmacology: an update
[3] NIDA: Real Teens Ask: What Are the Different Types of Opioids?
[4] NCBI: The Neurobiology of Opioid Dependence: Implications for Treatment
[5] NIDA:The Science of Drug Use and Addiction: The Basics
[6]SAMSHA: Key Substance Use and Mental Health Indicators in the United States:
Results from the 2017 National Survey on Drug Use and Health
[7] HHS: What is the U.S. Opioid Epidemic?
[8] SAMSHA: Key Substance Use and Mental Health Indicators in the United States:
Results from the 2016 National Survey on Drug Use and Health
[9] CDC: Drug Overdose Deaths
[10] National Institute on Drug Abuse: Opioid Overdose Crisis
About the author
Lee Weber is a published author, medical writer, and woman in long-term recovery from addiction. Her latest book, The Definitive Guide to Addiction Interventions is set to reach university bookstores in early 2019.
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