What is Opiate Addiction?

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What is Opiate Addiction?

For a wide variety of reasons, more people than ever are finding themselves addicted to any number of opiates or opiate-derived drugs, and these addictions will almost always have devastating consequences.

For the 2 million American’s that are currently struggling with an unmanageable opioid addiction and those closest to them, it is essential to understand what exactly opiates are, how they affect the body, how an addiction takes place, and some of the most effective options for treating an opiate addiction.

What is an Opiate

Opiate Addiction

What is Opiate Addiction?

In its most general terms, an opiate is any drug that is created from the active ingredients in the opiate plant. Also referred to as opioids, these ingredients are not only found in common street drugs, they are also manufactured for the medical industry. While some opiates such as heroin or opium have been used for hundreds or even thousands of years in their base form, it was not until recently that these ingredients were refined and then released for the medical field.

Types of Opioids and How They are Taken

While some legal and illegal drugs come in multiple forms, opiates and opiate-based products come in a wide variety of products and conditions. While it is possible to snort opiate-based drugs that can be found on the streets, the vast majority of users tend to opt for smoking or injecting opium and heroin. Each of these substances comes from a refinement of the opiate plant, turning the active ingredients into a powder that can then be smoked or turned into a liquid for injection.

Dramatically increasing in popularity is the use of medical-grade opiates. Some of the most common generic names and brand names for these products include codeine, morphine, hydrocodone, Lortab, Vicodin, and oxymorphone along with a slew of popular nicknames. While these products may be tested and used within the medical field, they are also highly addictive and upwards of 12 million Americans use an opiate-based medication every single day with a high percentage struggling with an opiate addiction.

The Short and Long-Term Effects of an Opiate Use

While every individual reacts to these legal and illegal drugs in a slightly different manner, there are a few similarities that can be found with most users. It is also important to note that both prescription opiate medication and illegal opiate drugs produce similar side effects. Initially, users will report feelings of euphoria and light-headedness. Depending on the manner in which the drug was taken, these side effects could take place immediately. According to the individual’s tolerance to the drug and the dose that they have taken, the effects could last for as little as a few hours or as long as a day. Over this period, most users will move between moments of wakefulness and drowsiness or sleeping. This is often referred to as “nodding off” and it is one of the most prominent signs of opiate use.

It is possible for users to overdose or even contract a disease after a single use of an opiate, but the long-term effects are almost always destructive. For those that inject the drug, the opiate materials could potentially become lodged in various veins or even the heart and block off passage of the blood. The longer that the addict carries on with drug usage, the higher the likelihood is of collapsing these veins or completely losing the use of that extremity or area of injection.

All users will also begin to build a tolerance to the drug, no matter the form that they take or their preferred method of use. Many addicts will find themselves requiring 4, 5, or 6 times the dose in order to feel the same effects as when they began their habit. This is especially dangerous for those that go off opiates for any period of time and then return to their regular dose. This scenario is one of the most common reasons for overdosing on opiate drugs. Other side effects of long-term use include liver failure, liver disease, erythema, pulmonary complications, and a number of severe mental disorders including depression.

The Basics of An Addiction

Defining an addiction is a difficult task as it is slightly different for every single person. Whether the substance of choice is an opiate-based drug or even alcohol, this process is unique according to one’s genes, their body, and their lifestyle. Some addicts could be prescribed medication for months on end, only developing a deadly addiction after a year. Others could become immediately hooked to the drug after a single use of heroine. What most specialists do agree on is that the average addict will become addicted to a substance over a series of several steps.

The first stage of an addiction is the initial use. Unlike many other types of drugs, for countless millions this first step will be a prescription from one’s doctor. Opiates are commonly used to treat pain, but even these pills and tabs are exceptionally addictive. After the initial use, the individual will then transition into consistent use and blur the lines of a habit and a deadly addiction. After heavy use has begun to take place, users could then potentially make the final step into a life-altering addiction. What sets the addiction stage apart from all others is that the user understands the negative impact the drug is having on their life but continues on with the habit.

Treating an Addiction

At no point should any addict ever put off seeking out professional help. No matter how much or how little of the opiate-based drugs that the individual uses, help is always within reach. The longer that the individual continues to use the drug, the higher their chances will be of irreversible or even deadly consequences including injuries to their body. For those that would like permanent change, many successful programs will approach all facets of the addict’s life in order to break free from the drug.

In addition to any number of counseling sessions, outpatient programs, group therapy, or whatever other treatment options the individuals requires, a detox period may also be necessary. Detoxing can be dangerous when one is not assisted by a medical professional, especially for those that have been consistently using this drug for an extended period of time.


An opiate addiction is not only a common problem around the world, it is one that often begins with a prescription from one’s doctor. This is why everyone should understand the signs to look for in an addict, how deadly this type of drug truly is, and some of the best options for breaking past an addiction and moving on with one’s life in a healthy manner.