The United States Department of Health and Human Services reports that approximately 9.7 million people in America misuse prescription opioids used to treat pain. Two out of three overdose deaths involve opioids, making opiate addiction a national health crisis. Around 80% of people who use illegal opioids started out taking prescription medication. Despite the push within the last decade to limit the use of opioids to treat chronic conditions, one in three people with medicare end up getting this type of medication. 

Between 1999 and 2019, a half-million overdose deaths were linked to illegal and prescription opioids. In 2019, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported an increase of up to 6-15% in overdose deaths. Opiate addiction is a dangerous epidemic.

Opiate Addiction


What are Opioids?

Opioids are a class of drugs that include:

  • Heroin and other illegal drugs
  • Fentanyl and other synthetic opioids
  • Oxycodone, hydrocodone, codeine, morphine, and other prescription pain relievers

Opioids can be highly effective when used under the direction of a medical professional; however, they are highly addictive. The conditions they treat are often chronic, leading to a high percentage of people building a tolerance and then purposefully misusing their medication or transitioning to stronger illegal versions of the drugs for pain relief or to manage discomfort. Opioids can come in the form of syrup, suppositories, tablets, capsules, or various solutions. 

Signs of Opiate Addiction

If you believe that a loved one may be experiencing opiate addiction, there are a few signs that you may notice. The United States National Library of Medicine lists the following as some common physical signs and behavioral changes that might indicate prescription misuse or illegal opioid abuse: 

  • Preoccupation with getting more of the substance
  • Using multiple doctors or online options to fill additional prescriptions 
  • Taking more than the recommended dose
  • Lethargy or unusual drowsiness 
  • Changes to sleep patterns
  • Changes to appetite, including skipping meals 
  • Stomach pain, constipation, nausea, or vomiting 
  • Unusually slow breathing 
  • Needle marks on arms, legs, or feet 
  • Pinpoint pupils 
  • Unusual aggression or irritability
  • Difficulty thinking, memory issues, and lack of coordination 
  • Extreme mood swings
  • Periods of euphoria 
  • Secretive behavior
  • Financial or legal issues 
  • Difficulty fulfilling responsibilities at work, home, school, and with social groups
  • Restlessness and hyperactivity 
  • Tics or muscle spasms
  • Extreme itchiness or scratching 

Each drug will have specific side effects and symptoms indicating misuse. Hydrocodone drugs are the most commonly prescribed opioid in the United States and, along with oxycodone and morphine, make up some of the most addictive prescribed substances. Not everyone who takes opioids regularly will become addicted, and currently, it is unknown what causes some people to develop addiction while others do not. However, some risk factors are known, including: 

  • Poverty
  • Unemployment
  • Family or personal history of substance abuse 
  • Frequenting high-risk areas or joining peer groups that engage in risky activities 
  • Being prescribed opioids for a chronic pain condition

Long- and Short-Term Health Effects of Opioids

The side effects that manifest will vary depending on multiple factors, including the type of drug, length of addiction, drug dose, and comorbidities. Some opioids are incredibly dangerous and can be lethal the first time they are misused. The National Institute on Drug Abuse lists the following short-term side effects:

  • Changes in appetite
  • Unusually high energy levels and difficulty sleeping 
  • Elevated heart rate and blood pressure
  • Heart attack
  • Extreme mood swings 
  • Stroke 
  • Psychosis 
  • Overdose
  • Death 

Even a single dose of an opioid can be fatal, but people who survive taking it over a period of time may notice the following long-term side effects:

  • Dangerous and impulsive behavior
  • Difficulty thinking clearly and memory problems
  • Permanent mood changes, including out of character aggressiveness and violence 
  • Higher risk of experiencing legal issues
  • Higher risk of developing cancer, lung disease, and mental illness
  • Hepatitis
  • Higher risk of contracting HIV/AIDS
  • Inability to control stress levels 
  • Difficulty making decisions 
  • Sexual dysfunction 

Available Therapy Options

The most common therapy and treatment options for opioid abuse include psychotherapy and opioid agonist therapy (OAT). Medications that might be used during rehabilitation and continuing care include taking opioid agonists such as methadone (Methadose) and buprenorphine (Suboxone). Effective psychotherapy options include: 

  • Contingency Management
  • Motivational Incentives 
  • Community Reinforcement Approach
  • 12-Step Therapy 
  • Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

When you choose to attend a treatment program, a care team will help you determine which approach will work best. Depending on the dose of opiate you are on, transitioning off the medication might take slightly longer, which might extend the withdrawal period. The most successful treatments are in private or community-based facilities. Having medical professionals available 24/7 removes some of the stress and health dangers present if you were using outpatient treatment. You should never attempt to go “cold turkey” at home alone due to the extremely high risk of death or severe injury. There is no set timeline for opioid detox and withdrawal because some drugs are longer-acting than others, and the starting dose will impact how long detox takes. 

We are here for you

A large percentage of people who become addicted to opioids are looking for relief from chronic conditions causing them pain and discomfort. Everyone deserves to live a full and happy life, but using drugs to numb pain is not the answer. You may have found yourself misusing a prescription or illegal opiate, and now you are not sure what to do next. The great news is that evidence-based, standardized rehabilitation services are available to treat opiate addiction successfully. At White House Recovery and Detox, we offer compassionate care and a comprehensive treatment and therapy program for anyone who needs help overcoming opiate addiction.