Opiate Abuse

There is a difference between opiate abuse and opiate addiction. Recognizing the signs early can save you from going through a long road of recovery and withdrawal symptoms.

Opiate abuse has become an epidemic of great proportions in the United States affecting millions of Americans, their families & loved ones.  This severe problem is responsible for thousands of drug-related overdoses and deaths each year accounting for more than 60% of all drug related fatalities.  If you or someone you know is addicted to opiates or suffers from opiate abuse, professional treatment may be the only solution to sobriety.  Call our 24-hour helpline at 1-800-943-0566.  We can help you find safe, effective treatment for yourself or a loved one—treatment can help ease the pain, suffering and humiliation you a feeling.

What is Opiate Abuse?

Abuse of opiates

Opiate abuse is a serious problem but treatment can help!

Opiates are a class of drugs that mostly include controlled substances derived from the opium poppy.  The most common opiates include heroin & morphine but you may also have heard of others such as Oxycodone, Oxycontin, Hydrocodone & codeine.  Opiate abuse starts when an individual takes opiates on their own terms, against the recommendations of a doctor or for recreational purposes.

Millions of people are prescribed opiates for pain relief following injury, illness, surgery or accident and many of them never fall into the realm of opiate abuse.  However, for those who decide to begin taking the drug more frequently than recommended by the doctor or who take a stronger dose than was prescribed, opiate abuse is the culprit.  Opiate abuse is a very prevalent problem both when prescribed and when used as a recreational drug on the streets.

Is Opiate Abuse the Same as Addiction?

The short answer to this question is no!  Opiate abuse and opiate addiction are not the same thing—but they are interrelated.  Opiate abuse is how opiate addiction begins.  Those first few times of taking more of a dose or taking a dose sooner than was prescribed—that’s opiate abuse.  As the abusive patterns of opiate use extend, the user will often develop a tolerance to the drug and a subsequent physical dependence—that’s opiate dependence or opiate addiction.

What is Tolerance?

As opiates (or other drugs) are used the body will begin to tolerate the drugs more and the effects of the drugs will be less potent—this is tolerance.  Tolerance will build with each use of a drug or substance.  What happens is, at first the user may only have to take a small dose in order to have the pain relieving analgesic effects of the opiate.  Overtime, this dose will not be as effective as it originally was and there will be a need to a) take more of the drug to produce the same effects; b) take the drug more often to produce the same effects; c) cope with the drug producing a lesser effect (when pain relief is the reason for taking the drug, coping with a lessened effect may be difficult to deal with).

Tolerance is the first sign that an addiction has started to set in.  Even when an opiate is being taken as prescribed there is a risk of tolerance developing.  It doesn’t take an abusive nature to develop a tolerance to the medication being taken.  Likewise, it doesn’t take abusive use in order for the body to develop a physical dependence either.

Opiate Abuse Symptoms

The symptoms of opiate abuse begin when an individual starts to take the drug for purposes other than the specified or prescribed purpose.  This may be to get high or to feel stronger effects of the drug.  Likewise, it doesn’t take having to take an opiate to get high in order for the use of the drug to be considered abusive.  For instance, if the user takes more of the drug than prescribed without talking with his or her doctor first, this is considered abuse.  He or she may not be trying to get high, but simply trying to mask the pain of an injury or chronic illness.  Regardless, when the user takes medication on their own terms, abuse is likely the outcome.

Opiate abuse symptoms include:
  • Taking more than prescribed
  • Taking more often than prescribed
  • Taking opiates for reasons other than prescribed
  • Using opiates to get high
  • Developing a tolerance
  • Developing physical or psychological dependence
  • Withdrawal symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, depression or anxiety
  • Strong cravings for the drug
  • Lasting pain when not taking the drug
  • Irritability when not taking opiates
  • Using opiates despite known consequences

Opiate abuse can and most often will lead to physical dependence and a lifetime of addiction so it’s important to seek professional treatment if you suspect that you or someone you know is abusing opiates such as heroin, morphine, Oxycontin or codeine.

Development of Opiate Addiction

Sustained opiate abuse that remains untreated will lead to physical dependence and subsequent opiate addiction.  The development of opiate addiction may happen almost unknowingly and you may not even realize that there’s a problem until you actually try to stop taking the drug and begin to suffer from withdrawal symptoms.

The most common of the opiate withdrawal symptoms are:
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Sweats
  • Anxiety
  • Bone, muscle and joint pain
  • Tension
  • Extreme cravings

If you realize that you are already suffering from these symptoms if you don’t take enough of an opiate such as heroin or a prescription painkiller or if you have tried to quit taking opiates but the withdrawal symptoms are too much, it’s time to seek professional treatment.  Withdrawal is a sure sign that dependence is a factor and you will likely require additional treatment and care in order to safely and effective get past the stage of dependence and on your way to recovery.

Opiate Abuse Statistics

The Center for Disease Control reports that enough prescription painkillers were prescribed in 2010 to medicate every American adult around-the-clock for a month!  In most cases, the painkillers that are prescribed are prescription opiates such as Roxycodone, Oxycodone, Oxycontin, Percocet, Morphine or a similar opiate or opioid based drug.  This is just one of the many alarming statistics regarding the abusive use of opiates in the United States.

Additional opiate abuse statistics:
  • The National Institute of Health claims that 39% of all opioids prescribed come from emergency department visits
  • The number of opiate or opioid prescriptions originating from emergency department visits rose from 23% to nearly 40% in less than 10 years
  • Most opiate abusers, especially those who use injectable opiates such as heroin, do not seek help for their addiction until they have been avid opiate abusers for 14 years or more
  • The World Health Organization estimates that as many as 3 million people in Europe and the US alone are addicted to opiates
  • More than 2 million Americans suffer from opiate addiction

Treatment for Opiate Abuse

In its early stages, opiate abuse doesn’t necessarily require professional treatment but successive use of these drugs will lead to the need for better treatment and care.  Opiate abuse on a mild scale may simply require some counseling and therapy, a change in medications and similar proactive treatment.  Opiate abuse on a larger scale, especially injecting opiates such as heroin or prescription painkillers for the purpose of getting high can require intensive medical intervention as well as counseling, therapy & support to prevent a lifetime of addiction.

If you or someone you know is abusing opiates, seek treatment by calling our helpline at 1-800-943-0566.  Professional counselors are standing by to accept your call and provide you with access to the treatment and support that you need to get sober and remain abstinent from these dangerous drugs.