Understanding Opioid Addiction

The Disease Model of Addiction

Opioid addiction is commonly understood as the inability to stop using opioids despite the negative consequences to one’s daily life. It is also important to understand that opioid addiction is a complex medical issue with neurological, emotional and behavioral aspects. In fact, the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) defines addiction as “a primary chronic disease of brain reward, motivation, memory and related circuitry.”

How Opioids Work

Opioids work by binding to opioid receptors, primarily in the brain and nervous system, to block the sending of pain signals. As a result, they have long been used to treat acute and chronic pain. In fact, many individuals who are now struggling with opioid addiction were first introduced to the drug through prescriptions. Along with blocking pain signals, opioids flood the reward system of the brain with dopamine, which may produce extreme feelings of euphoria and cravings. These drugs can also impact the respiratory system, digestive system, cognitive abilities and mood.

Common Opioids

  • Fentanyl
  • Oxycodone (OxyContin, Percocet)
  • Oxymorphone (Opana)
  • Hydrocodone (Vicodin)
  • Codeine
  • Morphine
  • Heroin

Withdrawal Symptoms

As opioid use escalates, individuals may develop a tolerance to the drug which leads to a need for higher and more frequent doses to achieve the same effects. When the drug is not present in the system, individuals who have developed a tolerance are likely to experience withdrawal symptoms. Eventually, opioid users may need to take excessive amounts of opioids just to avoid withdrawal and feel normal. Opioid withdrawal symptoms can often be one of the most significant barriers to successful recovery.

Common Opioid Withdrawal Symptoms

  • Nausea
  • Muscle Aches
  • Hot and Cold Flashes
  • Tremors
  • Increased Heart Rate
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Sweating
  • Insomnia
  • Drug Cravings

Individual Risk Factors

Although physical dependence and withdrawal symptoms are significant barriers to treatment, there are other factors that contribute to the development and persistence of opioid addiction. These additional factors may include environmental stressors, psychological conditioning and genetic predispositions. Individuals who suffer from trauma, abuse, poverty, and mental health issues are also more likely to struggle with addiction. However, addiction is  widespread in the general population, with more than 2 million individuals suffering from opioid addiction in the U.S.

Signs of opioid addiction may include withdrawal symptoms, excessive mood swings, taking higher doses than prescribed and poor judgment. If you or someone you know may be struggling with opioid abuse, please contact us to learn how we may be able to help.