Opioid Abuse & Addiction Guide
Opioid abuse is a public health crisis in America. Daily news reports speak of addiction and overdose as rampant and happening with alarming frequency. However, for some people, opioid use is not just an issue in the media, but a concern you may have for yourself or a loved one. Some people might ask, “can I die from opioids?” The answer, unfortunately, is yes. In fact, approximately 47,000 Americans die each year from an opioid overdose. In Nevada, 372 people died in 2018 from an opioid-related overdose.1 The purpose of this page is to educate you on opioid addiction and where to seek help in Nevada and nationwide for yourself or a loved one.
What are Opioids?
Opioids are in a class of drugs that include both legal prescription medications as well as illicit street drugs (i.e., heroin). Opioids, regardless of type, bind to the opioid receptors in the brain and spine to provide pain relief. Prescription opioids, such as hydrocodone, oxycodone, fentanyl, codeine, and morphine, are critically important medications used to fight pain; there are many medically valid uses for these drugs. Morphine, for example, is widely used to control pain immediately after surgery. Oxycodone is frequently prescribed to control chronic pain. Other medical reasons for opioid use include cough suppression (codeine cough syrups) and gastrointestinal relief. Unfortunately, even those with medical prescriptions can become addicted to opioids.2. (p. 6,7)
How Addictive are Opioids?
Opioid addiction is a serious potential consequence of taking opioids. There is no doubt that opioids are addictive, though this will not occur the same in every person. Opioids bind to opioid receptors, which leads to the release of the neurotransmitter dopamine, resulting in feelings of pleasure and euphoria. In the short-term, opioid use will lead to pain relief, relaxation, and drowsiness. Some people will experience euphoria while others might feel nauseous or constipated.2 (6,7) The effects of opioids vary from one person to another and can depend on the dosage, previous opioid use, and how the drug is taken.3 (p 39) Oftentimes, people wonder how long it takes to become addicted to opioids. It is hard to say exactly when a person can get to this point. However, addiction is more likely to occur when someone takes opioids in a way that they were not intended to be used, such as:4
- Taking more than prescribed.
- Taking the opioid in a way that it was not intended, such as crushing, snorting, or injecting it.
- Using opioids to get high.
Addiction to opioids can also occur through the abuse of over-the-counter medicines that contain opioids, including dextromethorphan, which is in some cough syrups to aid in cough suppression, and loperamide, which helps to control diarrhea. Oftentimes, these medications are mixed with other drugs, causing hallucinations (similar to those experienced with drugs such as ketamine or PCP). Mixing these over-the-counter medications can result in liver damage.5
Side Effects of Opioids
When a person abuses an opioid such as heroin, hydrocodone, fentanyl, morphine, codeine, or oxycodone, there are short- and long-term side effects. Regardless of how long the person has used opioids, overdose is a very real danger. In addition, even those who take a prescribed opioid for a very short period of time can experience any of the following symptoms:3(p. 39)
- Slowed breathing, which can result in oxygen deprivation (hypoxia), and lead to brain damage
- Slowed physical movement
- Nausea and vomiting
In addition, the long-term effects of opioid addiction include:6
- Dry mouth and nose.
- Severe constipation.
- Possible eye disorders from constricted blood vessels in the eye.
- Issues with erectile dysfunction in men.
- Irregular periods in women.
If you inject opioids, the risks associated dramatically increase, especially the longer a person uses the drug intravenously. Common symptoms associated with injecting drugs include:6
- Skin abscesses and infections.
- Hardening of the veins.
- Infections of the heart.
- HIV and hepatitis from shared needles.
When a person abuses opioids, long-term effects can include physical dependence, which means that the person will experience symptoms of withdrawal when the drug is withheld.3(p. 39)
Opioid Withdrawal Symptoms
When you take opioids, you can become physically dependent on them. You will experience symptoms of physical withdrawal when you stop taking them. These symptoms include:7(fig 4.4)
- Nausea and vomiting.
- Stomach cramps and diarrhea.
- Bone and dental pain.
- Excessive sweating and yawning.
- Excessively teary eyes.
- Goose flesh and chills.
Signs & Symptoms of Opioid Addiction
You may wonder, “how do you know if you’re addicted to opioids?” The signs of opioid addiction that indicate that someone may have an opioid use disorder include:6
- Taking more opioids than originally intended.
- Taking opioids even though you know that a medical or emotional issue could worsen.
- Having cravings to use opioids.
- Trying to cut back or stop using opioids but being unable to do so.
- Being unable to fulfill responsibilities at home or work due to opioid use.
- Using opioids in risky settings, such as when driving.
- Foregoing things you used to enjoy, such as hobbies, in order to use opioids.
- Spending a lot of time finding, using, and recovering from using opioids.
Treatment for Opioid Addiction
Though no two people are exactly alike, and each person’s treatment plan is individualized, there are some general practices that treatment programs follow regarding detox and treatment. You can undergo detox in one of two ways:7(55-60)
- Medical detox. Several facilities offer medication-assisted detox programs to help you taper off opioids. Medications, such as buprenorphine, suboxone, or methadone, mimic the effects of opioids on the brain’s opioid receptors. However, unlike heroin or oxycodone, these forms of medication-assisted treatment will prevent the chemical reactions that cause the symptoms of withdrawal, but they are formulated in such a way that you cannot get high from them.
- Social detox. Staff in these programs provide emotional support and enable you to be supervised so you can get help promptly if needed. Medication in these types of programs is generally limited to symptom relief, such as Tylenol for headaches or other medications to help control nausea or diarrhea.
Detox and ongoing treatment can occur in several settings, such as:7(11-20)
- Inpatient treatment. where you receive 24/7 supervision and treatment. There is no way to know if you need inpatient or outpatient treatment without undergoing a full assessment by a substance abuse treatment professional. However, inpatient treatment might be the best option for someone with co-occurring medical issues or underlying mental health issues. You may also need treatment in an inpatient setting if you have previously attended an outpatient detox program but were unsuccessful in the recovery process. Inpatient treatment can last for several days up to several months, depending on the severity of your opioid addiction.
- Outpatient treatment, which may be appropriate for some people. A person may attend an outpatient program for a day or two each week for a few hours at a time. Intensive outpatient treatment meets more frequently, usually 2 to 3 days a week for 3 to 4 hours a day. The length and frequency of services vary from person to person, depending on each person’s needs. Sometimes, people attend outpatient treatment as a step down from an inpatient program. Other people go straight to outpatient treatment first. Outpatient treatment may last several weeks or months.
Where Can I Get Help for Opioid Addiction
If you are in Nevada, American Addiction Centers offers opioid rehab at Desert Hope in Las Vegas. In addition, American Addiction Centers has treatment programs across the United States. At American Addiction Centers, you will find compassionate and caring staff who will help you develop the personalized treatment plan that bests meets your individual needs. Call our 24/7 helpline today to find the best option for you for opioid addiction treatment. Our helpline is free and confidential and one of our trained advisors can help you start on your journey to opioid addiction recovery. We can be reached at 702-800-2682.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2020). Nevada: Opioid involved deaths and related harms.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2020). Misuse of prescription drugs research report.
- Drug Enforcement Administration. (2017). Drugs of abuse.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2020). Prescription opioids: Drug facts.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2017). Over-the-counter medicines: Drug facts.
- American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5®). American Psychiatric Pub.
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2015). Detoxification and substance abuse treatment.
You are not in this alone
Our Admissions Navigators are here to help you take back control of your life.