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Deadly Drugs Behind America's Crisis

Opioid Addiction

Article Contents

What is Opioid Addiction?

Legal Painkillers

Opioids are a class of drugs that come in many forms. Opioids are used in prescription medications that can be used legally for various medical conditions. These prescription medications are often used for the treatment of moderate to severe pain.

Opioids can also be illegal drugs, such as heroin, that are made and used recreationally. Even when opioids are prescribed legally, people abuse them recreationally for the euphoric high they produce.

Opioid Dependence and Tolerance

Opioids are highly addictive and repeated misuse or abuse of them can lead to the development of psychological and physical dependence. The development of dependence often leads people to believe they can’t live without the drugs and feel like they need them to be able to function normally.
Repeated use of opioids will cause tolerance to develop. Tolerance is when increasingly higher doses are needed to get the same effects. Taking high doses of opioids is very dangerous and can lead to death.
Opioid addiction is dangerous, and some form of addiction treatment is necessary for a full recovery.

How Common is Opioid Addiction?

Opioid addiction statistics show that opioid abuse is a big problem and more prevalent in society than many may think. Opioid addiction statistics have shown increases in opioid abuse and overdose over the years. This increase has led to what is being called the “Opioid Overdose Epidemic” in the United States.

Here are some of the statistics:1

Types of Opioids


Opioids come in many different forms including prescription medications, illegal drugs, and synthetic opioids. The most common illegal opioid is heroin. Heroin is produced and sold illegally for recreational use and is highly addictive, leading to addiction symptoms.

Synthetic Opioids

Synthetic opioids are drugs that are produced in a laboratory that affect the brain in a similar way that other opioids do. The most common synthetic opioid is Fentanyl. Fentanyl is similar to morphine but is 50 to 100 times more potent.

Prescription Opioids

Lastly, prescription opioids are medications that are prescribed to treat moderate to severe pain. Common prescription opioids are oxycodone (OxyContin®), hydrocodone (Vicodin®), codeine, and morphine. All of these drugs can be highly addictive if misused or abused. Proper opioid addiction treatment will be necessary if you develop dependence, tolerance, or addiction.

Causes of Opioid Addiction

Many different factors cause opioid addiction. Opioid addiction statistics show that mental illness and addiction often go hand in hand.
According to, “Research indicates that 43 percent of people in substance use disorder treatment for nonmedical use of prescription painkillers have a diagnosis or symptoms of mental health disorders, particularly depression and anxiety.”1

Prescription Abuse

Misuse of prescription painkillers is often a cause of opioid addiction when you take more than the prescribed dose of prescription opioids.

Recreational Abuse

People abuse prescription or illegal opioids like heroin or oxycodone for the pleasant feelings they create. This causes a loop where more and more of the drug is needed and easily leads to addiction.

Symptoms of Opioid Addiction

It isn’t always easy to determine the exact signs of opioid addiction. Those who are struggling may try to cover up what’s going on. However, there are some common addiction symptoms. Common signs of opioid addiction are:

  • Drowsiness
  • Shaking and sweating
  • Irritability or drastic mood swings
  • Decreased motivation or abandoning responsibilities
  • Erratic sleeping patterns
  • Struggles in work and social life
  • Slurred speech
  • Loss of coordination
  • Financial hardship

Knowing the signs of opioid addiction is critical to get the help that is needed. Opioid addiction affects not only the person struggling but also those who care about them. Opioid addiction treatment can help with long term success in rehabilitation and recovery.

Effects of Opioid Addiction

Addiction can take a massive toll on someone’s life in many different ways. One of the biggest dangers of opioid abuse is an overdose. Opioid addiction statistics have shown increases in opioid overdose over the years, as part of the “Opioid Overdose Epidemic.”

Tolerance and Overdose

When someone is frequently taking opioids, they will begin to build a tolerance to these drugs. As they build a tolerance, they will feel the need to take increasingly higher doses. This is what can lead to an overdose. Opioids severely slow breathing and heart rate. When too high of a dose is taken these effects can reach dangerous and even life-threatening levels.

Opioid Withdrawal

Another factor of opioid addiction is withdrawal. Withdrawal symptoms can be very serious which is why proper medical attention is needed at the beginning of the recovery process. Addiction treatment is available to address these symptoms and support recovery.

Opioid Impacts on Different Populations


Opioid addiction statistics show that women are more likely to have chronic pain and be prescribed prescription opioid painkillers. Studies also show that women may become dependent on opioid pain relievers more quickly than men. According to, “48,000 women died of prescription pain reliever overdoses between 1999 and 2010.”


Adolescents between 12 to 17 years old may also be at risk of developing an opioid addiction. According to, “In 2015, an estimated 21,000 adolescents had used heroin in the past year, and an estimated 5,000 were current heroin users. Additionally, an estimated 6,000 adolescents had a heroin use disorder in 2014. The prescribing rates for prescription opioids among adolescents and young adults nearly doubled from 1994 to 2007.”2


According to opioid abuse statistics on, of opioid overdose deaths in the United States in 2018, 76% were white, 13% were black, and 9% were Hispanic.3 Studies show that numerous causes lead to whites who live in the U.S. are more likely to be prescribed and abuse prescription opioids.4

Opioid Addiction Treatment

There are resources available to get opioid addiction help and treatment. Getting proper addiction treatment is vital for anyone struggling with opioid use. Treatment can provide many tools, such as medications to help with withdrawal symptoms, behavioral therapy, and even a support system so you don’t feel like you have to go through it alone.


Common medications that are used during opioid addiction treatment are buprenorphine (Suboxone®, Subutex®), methadone, and extended-release naltrexone (Vivitrol®). These medications are used at the beginning of addiction treatment to help lower cravings and reduce withdrawal symptoms.
Opioid withdrawal symptoms can be very serious and even dangerous at times, thus taking something to help reduce those symptoms can be important to the recovery process.


Behavioral therapy is often a good idea when recovering from addiction. When someone is living with an addiction, they will often develop negative behavior patterns that lead to repeated drug use. Rerouting behaviors to more positive outlets and offering coping mechanisms to deal with the stresses of life without drug use can be critical to recovery.
Therapy may also bring up other underlying problems that may be contributing to addiction and drug use. Things like mental illness or dealing with past trauma can make someone more likely to abuse drugs. Working on these underlying issues can help greatly in gaining and maintaining long-term sobriety.


There are many different treatment options including inpatient and outpatient treatment at a rehabilitation center.

Inpatient Treatment

Inpatient treatment allows someone to stay at a treatment center for a duration of time where they can live in a stable environment without any temptations around them. Inpatient treatment will provide around the clock medical care and a consistent support system.

Outpatient Treatment

Outpatient treatment is also available and can be good for those who don’t want to be away from their family for an extended period. Outpatient treatment allows you to go to a treatment center on scheduled days and times where treatment and therapy will occur during the recovery process.

The choice of inpatient or outpatient treatment will depend on the individual and their needs. Overall, receiving the proper treatment, therapy, and coping skills during the recovery process is important to gaining and maintaining long term sobriety.
If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction there are resources available. Get help today.

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