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Opioid Addiction: Signs, Symptoms & Treatment

Woman sitting with head in her hands and tablets spilt over the table

Opioid addiction has become a growing concern during recent years, with much research being carried out into the reasons behind opioid addiction. It has been described in the press as a growing epidemic. Here we will discuss what drugs are classed as opioids, what causes opioid addiction, the symptoms of opioid addiction and treatment options.

What are opioids?

Opioids are derived from the opium plant. In simplistic terms, an opioid is a type of substance that targets the brain’s opioid receptors that then, in turn, create a reaction that is similar to morphine. This is why opioids are most commonly used in surgery and for pain relief. They are used for dental treatment, cancer treatment and chronic conditions such as chronic back pain.

Opioids most commonly come in the form of prescription drugs for the relief of pain. The most common types are fentanyl, tramadol, methadone and oxycodone. Opioids can also be found in the form of an illegal drug, that of heroin.

Although primarily used for the treatment of pain, opioids will also give you that ‘high’ feeling, making you feel instantly relaxed and happy.

What is opioid addiction?

Many people are confused about this and how it is classified. It is often wrongly assumed that you can only be addicted to illegal opioids such as heroin, but this sadly is not the case. You can become addicted to any drug within the opioid family.

What is important to remember is that, on the whole, opioids are safe to take in the short term and will not lead to addiction, as long as they are taken properly and as prescribed. If opioids are misused and more tablets are taken than are prescribed and you do not follow the guidelines detailed by your doctor, then you may become addicted.

Opioid addiction is when you feel you need to carry on taking the drug even when there is no medical need to do so. Opioid addiction is a disease that affects the brain and then your behaviour as you become reliant on the drug. Over time, it will also lose its pain-relieving properties due to your tolerance of the drug, meaning that if you do have pain then you will need to use a different type of pain relief.

When you become addicted to opioids, it will feel as if you cannot get through the day without them. Opioids will become the most important part of your life; more important than family or relationships. Your physical and mental health will suffer as a result.

What causes opioid addiction?

So where does opioid addiction start? What causes opioid addiction? In most cases, the addiction begins when the drug is misused after being prescribed on a short term basis for pain relief. Sometimes a person may take heroin as a one-off for recreational use but will then soon find themselves hooked.

Where does opioid addiction start? – It’s widely prescribed

The reason opioids are such an addictive drug is because they are widely and legally prescribed, plus they flood the brain with artificial endorphins that both relieve pain and just make you feel good. This is an addictive cocktail. Over time, your body has the need and cravings for these artificial endorphins. The body will then stop making its own endorphins and you become even more reliant upon the drug.

Opioid addiction symptoms

It can be difficult to spot opioid addiction symptoms. The first step is for the individual to admit that they have a problem, but this in itself can be difficult. One very clear sign is that the person is unable to stop taking the drug and they are taking more than the prescribed dose. The various opioid addiction symptoms and general signs to look out for come under the three umbrellas of physical, behavioural and psychological signs and symptoms.

The physical signs and symptoms can include suffering from poor coordination, feeling drowsy and disconnected from the world, shallow breathing, feeling nauseous, slurred speech and being constipated.

Changes in normal behaviour may include making poor decisions, abandoning usual duties and responsibilities that are both work and family-related, suffering from mood swings, irritability and going on a ‘high’.

The psychological signs and symptoms of addiction usually include anxiety, depression, not being able to sleep and lack of motivation.

How long do opioids stay in your system?

This is a difficult question to answer as there are many different factors at play. When wondering ‘how long do opioids stay in your system?’, it’s important to know that the length of time opioids stay in your system is dependent upon the following factors: the type of opioid that has been taken plus the quantity. Medics will also need to find out if other drugs were taken at the same time and if they have also been a long term problem. Age, gender, weight and medical history will also affect how long the opioid stays in your system. Although there is no one answer to the question, there are ways for medics to calculate exactly how long it will take for the opioid to leave your body.

Opioid addiction statistics

Opioid addiction statistics make for interesting reading. Public Health England, in one of their recent reports, found that during 2017/18, there had been reductions in the number of opioid prescriptions, but they did acknowledge that dependency and addiction were still a huge side effect of these type of drugs. A BBC news <a href=”″>report</a> stated that in 2017, GPs based in England made nearly 24 million opioid pain killer prescriptions, which are equivalent to making 2,700 prescriptions, per hour. It is not known how many of these individuals developed an addiction.

Opioid addiction treatment

So, how to treat opioid addiction? When an addiction problem has been identified and you want to change your life, then the next step is to seek opioid addiction treatment and help. What is the best treatment? The important thing to consider is that every individual is different, but in most cases, treatment will involve both detox and rehab services.

How to treat opioid addiction – detox and rehab

The drug detox usually takes place in a clinic under supervision from trained professionals who can support you through this transition. The withdrawal from the drug is done in a safe and controlled way.

Talking therapies such as CBT, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, is usually part of the rehab process that helps you to talk through your feelings and the possible reasons behind your addiction.

Serenity Addiction Clinic offers a range of detoxification and rehabilitation services for individuals who are suffering from opioid addiction. We also support family members. To learn more about our addiction rehab and detox services, then please do get in touch with us today.