Opioids are a class of drugs made from opium. Other synthetic or semi-synthetic drugs are also made to act like opium and are included here. Opioids include those that are:
Legal when prescribed by a doctor—oxycodone, codeine, morphine, and fentanyl
Illegal such as heroin—called narcotics
Opioid use disorder (OUD) is an out-of-control need and craving for these drugs. It is severe enough to affect how you relate to people and how you act at work and school. Habits that suggest OUD include:
Mixing with other drugs and alcohol
Using opioids for the wrong reasons like to get high or fall asleep
Opioids are very addictive. They cause changes in the pathways in the brain. These pathways impact your sense of reward and well-being. Opioids create a quick, deep feeling of pleasure. A sense of well-being and calm follows. The problem is that your brain will begin to need more of the drug to get the same effect. This is called drug tolerance.
Other things that may play a role in OUD are:
The support of your peers
How it Affects the Brain
Opioids help release chemicals in the brain that cause joy. Over time, you need more drugs to cause the same release. This leads to misuse.
Moving from one doctor to another for more medicine
Craving the opioid
Being unable to stop or limit your use
Using a lot of effort to get more of the opioid
Use that gets in the way of doing normal things
Making a habit of using the opioid even though it causes problems
The drugs also change other systems in your body. This can lead to a physical dependence. Your body begins to need the drug to get through the day. When you stop or lower the medicine you can get ill. This can include intense nausea, vomiting, shaking, and sweating. This can make it even harder to stop using.
The first step is to stop using the drug, also known as detox. The second step is to change behaviors to stop from using the drug again. Get help from your doctor and a support team to help your through. Treatment may include a combination of approaches such as:
Rehabilitation (rehab) may be inpatient or outpatient. Inpatient rehab means staying in a care center for many weeks up to 1 year. The time needed depends on the addiction and factors that lead to it. Before going home, some inpatients live at halfway houses. This can help you slowly meet challenges in the real world. Outpatient rehab can also last up to a year, but you can live at home. Outpatients make frequent visits to clinics for support. All rehab involves:
Removal and controlled withdrawal with medicines (detox)
Treatment for other mental health problems like depression or anxiety
Therapy and support to make behavioral changes
Narcotics Anonymous is a 12-step support program. It helps to support people who are recovering from OUD.
Behavioral therapy changes people’s views and actions about OUD. You will learn how to stay away from settings in which you are most likely to use drugs. You will also learn new coping skills to better deal with stresses. Therapy sessions may be one on one, in a group, or with your family.
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https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/treatment-approaches-drug-addiction. Updated January 2018. Accessed April 18, 2018.
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https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/principles-drug-addiction-treatment-research-based-guide-third-edition/drug-addiction-treatment-in-united-states/types-treatment-programs. Updated January 2018. Accessed April 18, 2018.
Last reviewed March 2018 by
EBSCO Medical Review Board
Adrian Preda, MD Last Updated: 4/25/2018