Currently, an estimated 115 people die per day as a direct result of an opioid overdose. Throughout the past decade, the number of people dying from opioid overdose has increased exponentially. Opioids are one of the most addictive classifications of drugs on the planet and are one of the most challenging types of addiction to overcome.

With the severity of the opioid epidemic plaguing the United States and the serious nature of an opioid addiction in general, receiving proper opioid addiction treatment is crucial. When it comes to opioids, getting clean is a matter of life and death. Learn more about these powerful drugs, what opioid addiction symptoms to keep an eye out for, and what goes into the life saving opioid addiction treatment!

What are Opioids?

Opioids are a classification of drugs that all have a similar chemical makeup and effect on the brain and body. Opioids work by acting on the opioid receptors in your brain. Opioids primarily function as pain relievers, anesthetics, and by suppressing diarrhea.

There are varying levels of potency found in different opioids. Some are stronger than others, meaning that even with smaller doses they have a more powerful effect. This is particularly common in man-made opioids, which are opioids synthesized in laboratories.

Opioids can come as prescription medications or as illicit drugs. Prescription painkillers such as Dilaudid or Percocet are commonly prescribed to patients around the world. Meanwhile, heroin, which is sourced from the poppy plant, is also considered an opioid. There are many different substances that fall under the opioid category.

Opioids work in the brain and body by binding to the opioid receptors in your brain. These receptors are located in the central and peripheral nervous systems and the gastrointestinal tract. Opioids help to treat pain and other ailments by reducing the transfer of pain messages to the brain. It changes the way that the brain perceives the sensation of pain and can also produce feelings of pleasure and euphoria in opioid users, which is what makes them so desirable.

Opioids also slow different bodily functions such as heart rate and breathing rate. Blood pressure will also drop while under the effects of opioids, which is what can make taking them in larger amounts so dangerous. These essential body functions can be reduced to such minimal levels that patients may inadvertently stop breathing or lose consciousness.

Opioids are highly addictive substances. Patients not only develop a psychological dependence on them by seeking the feelings of euphoria and pleasure but a severe physical dependence as well. When you consume opioids, whether by injection, snorting, smoking, or swallowing them, the intense feelings of pleasure and euphoria are caused by the brain being flooded with the neurotransmitter dopamine.

Over time, the body becomes accustomed to the presence of opioids in the body and the excess dopamine in the brain. The user will develop what is known as a tolerance, or a resistance to the effects of the drugs. This means that to achieve the same effects, you’ll need to take larger and larger doses of opioids each time. Even when taken as prescribed, patients can develop a physical addiction to opioids.

Regardless of whether your tolerance stems from taking your prescription opioids as prescribed, or abusing illicit opioids recreationally, the body will begin to change the way it functions. The brain, used to the presence of the drug in the system, will undergo a chemical change and no longer operate correctly.

The brain stops producing dopamine naturally and when the drug wears off, you’ll experience what’s known as withdrawals, or negative physical symptoms that manifest as the brain attempts to regulate itself.

Having a psychological and physical dependence are the tell-tale signs of an opioid addiction. Opioid addiction is a serious condition that can result in negative physical, emotional, and financial consequences.

More people are overdosing as a result of opioid use than ever, so getting proper opioid addiction treatment as soon as possible can be the difference between life and death. Read on to learn how to spot an opioid addiction and learn about opioid addiction symptoms to get the help you or a loved one may need.

What are the Signs of Opioid Addiction?

If you believe you or a loved one may be struggling with an opioid addiction, it’s important to look out for certain red flags. These opioid addiction symptoms may manifest in a physical or behavioral manner. Since addiction is not a one-size-fits-all disorder, the way that it may appear in people may be different than other. The following opioid addiction symptoms are the more commonly seen signs to keep an eye out for:

  • Sudden changes in weight
  • Withdrawing from different social activities/obligations
  • Mood swings
  • Aggression
  • Irritability
  • Lethargy or fatigue
  • Depression
  • Changes in social circles
  • Insomnia or other changes in sleeping patterns
  • Financial difficulties
  • Lying and/or stealing
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Red eyes
  • Pinned pupils
  • Sweating
  • Cravings for opioids
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms
  • Unable to stop taking opioids even when faced with negative consequences

These are just some of the various opioid addiction symptoms to look for in yourself and others. Addiction may manifest itself differently in each person, but the most important thing to look for is a sudden, severe change in behavior in those you may suspect of having an opioid addiction.

It’s important to remember that addiction, or a substance use disorder, is a disease recognized by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-V). It is a chronic, progressive condition that requires proper medical and clinical treatment in order to get it under control.

The disease cannot be cured and will worsen before it ever gets better on its own. If you believe that you or a loved one is currently suffering from an addiction to opioids, seeking opioid addiction treatment is the next step.

Many people find that they cannot simply stop using opioid on their own since the withdrawal symptoms and cravings associated with opioid use are so intense. Opioid addiction treatment addresses all aspect of opioid addiction and can get you or your loved one back to living a normal, drug-free life.

What is Involved in Opioid Addiction Treatment?

Once you have identified an opioid addiction in yourself or a loved one, the first course of action should be finding proper opioid addiction treatment. Since opioids are highly addictive substances that possess painful withdrawal processes, it can be all but impossible to stop taking opioids on your own. By undergoing opioid addiction treatment, you’ll be able to address the physical withdrawal symptoms and address the underlying causes of your opioid addiction to prevent returning to the drug in the future.

What’s important to keep in mind when pursuing opioid addiction treatment is the importance of completing the full continuum of care. The full continuum of care refers to completing each level of care in its entirety. The full continuum of care starts out with higher levels of care that possess a more intense level of medical and clinical intervention and slowly progresses to lower levels with less hands-on tactic by the medical and clinical team.

Each level slowly acclimates you to have more freedom and responsibilities to your recovery. This prevents you from being overwhelmed too early and vulnerable in your recovery, which is when the propensity for relapse is at its highest.

Completing the full continuum of care greatly increases your chances of success in long-term sobriety. By spending more time in treatment getting to the core issues behind your opioid addiction rather than simply treating your opioid withdrawal symptoms, you can treat both the emotional and physical aspects of addiction.


Detox is the first level of care in opioid addiction treatment. Since opioids possess physically dependent properties, whenever you stop taking opioids you’ll likely encounter withdrawal symptoms. While opioid withdrawal symptoms are not typically life-threatening, they are particularly painful and overall unpleasant. These symptoms can vary in severity depending on different factors such as the type of opioid you were using, how long you were using, how much you were using, and your overall physical health.

Withdrawals from opioids can range from mild to severe, and often are next to impossible to overcome without medical attention. Many people find themselves returning to opioid use, even when they want to stop using, in order to prevent the withdrawal symptoms.

Detox addresses the withdrawal process by using a full medical and clinical team. Upon arriving at detox, you’ll undergo a full medical assessment, which takes a look at the severity of your opioid addiction and physical health. After the assessment, the attending physician will create and implement a personalized detox plan for you. This plan will usually utilize different detox medications designed to treat the detox side effects you’ll encounter during the withdrawal process to help you overcome the withdrawal symptoms as quickly and comfortably as possible.

Throughout your stay in detox, the medical team (comprised of doctors, nurses, and medical support staff) will monitor your progress and response to treatment. You will be under 24-7 surveillance to ensure your safety and comfortability during detox treatment.

Though the primary focus of the detox level of care is medical stabilization, you’ll also be under the care of a clinical staff made up of therapists, case managers, and support staff. They will help you manage your psychological withdrawal symptoms and provide initial therapy sessions to begin taking a look at the underlying emotional issues causing addiction, as well as provide insight into your dual diagnosis if applicable.


Following your successful detox, the next stage in opioid addiction treatment is inpatient or residential treatment. At this point, you’ll have been medically stabilized so that the focus can be shifted from your physical health to your mental health. Inpatient/residential treatment deals with the therapeutic aspect of addiction treatment.

You will be required to live on-site at the facility during inpatient/residential treatment. Here, you’ll live in a communal setting with other recovering addicts and alcoholics enrolled in the treatment program. While the amenities at each treatment center may vary, typically the general process is the same.

Groups and therapy sessions will be conducted on a full-time basis. Here, you’ll encounter different addiction therapy approaches and in some instances 12-step programs. You’ll get to the root cause of addiction and address any other emotional issues that may be interfering with your life.

During your stay at inpatient/residential, you’ll learn new life skills, coping mechanisms, and other relapse prevention techniques designed to help you during treatment in your life beyond drug rehab.

Intensive Outpatient

Intensive outpatient (IOP) follows inpatient/residential treatment. While still employing intensive therapy approaches, IOP drops down from full-time to part-time therapy. IOP sessions will usually occur multiple times per week for only several hours at a time, and these programs usually only last six to eight weeks.

IOP also does not house patients. This means that you’ll be responsible for locating and obtaining alternative housing. Many recovering people opt to live in a structured halfway house or sober living facility. These halfway houses possess strict rules regarding no drug or alcohol use and have other helpful rules like maintaining active employment and following curfews. This type of facility will foster an environment dedicated to recovery, which can help ease the transition from the sequestered inpatient life into returning to the community at large.

IOP intends to also ease this transition by providing substantial clinical intervention while simultaneously allowing clients to begin to have more personal freedoms and responsibilities. IOP will still provide medication management (if necessary) and therapeutic services to clients. IOP programs also perform random drug testing to help keep you accountable to your recovery, as admission and continued participation in an IOP program requires abstinence from all drugs and alcohol.


Routine outpatient, or simply outpatient, follows IOP. While similar in the sense that it requires alternative housing and occurs part-time only, attendance goes down to simply one hour per week. Outpatient programs last typically for several months, as it is the final step in the full continuum of care.

The purpose of outpatient is to provide basic clinical support to clients as they make their final transition back into society as newly sober people. You should be fairly stable in your recovery at this stage of opioid addiction treatment but may still need some support at times. By providing weekly therapy sessions and continued drug tests, it helps you stay on track in recovery while still allowing you to have more personal freedom and responsibility.

How Dangerous are Opioids?/ Opioid Overdose

Opioids are some of the most dangerous substances on the planet given their highly addictive nature and high propensity for overdose. Fentanyl, a potent opioid analog, has become more frequently found in heroin. With the potential to be over 100 times more potent than morphine, fentanyl is the leading cause of the rise in opioid overdose deaths in the United States.

Many people believe they are only buying heroin, but dealers are now cutting batches with this dangerous opioid. The result is an instant overdose. Addicts know what their tolerance to heroin is, but since Fentanyl is so much stronger than heroin or any other opioid for that matter, they inadvertently take more of the drug than they can handle.

Opioid overdose causes the suppression of the cardiovascular system. Overdose victims will often lose consciousness and have their heart rate and breathing slowed down to the point that they can stop breathing altogether. Opioid overdose can be reversed in some cases by using the drug Narcan, but sadly, it is not always effective or is administered too late.

Opioid Abuse Statistics

As mentioned earlier, currently the United States is dealing with an opioid epidemic. More people than ever are addicted to these dangerous drugs, and more people are dying at an accelerated rate. The opioid addiction statistics currently plaguing the country are horrifying, and illustrate the stark need for proper opioid addiction treatment to be more readily available.

  • According to the NIDA, the misuse of prescription opioids alone costs the United States $78.5 billion per year.
  • 21-29% of patients prescribed opioids for chronic pain misuse them.
  • 4-6% of those who misuse prescription opioids transition to heroin.
  • Opioid overdoses in large cities have increased by 54% in 16 states.

Commonly Abused Opioids

  • Heroin
  • Fentanyl
  • Carfentanil
  • Morphine
  • Codeine
  • Vicodin
  • Oxycodone
  • Hydrocodone
  • Tramadol
  • Suboxone
  • Methadone
  • Kratom
  • Darvocet
  • Demerol
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