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What Is Opiate Addiction

What Is Opiate Addiction?

Get an inside look into opiate addiction and the best treatment options to fight it in this informative article

What Is Opiate Addiction?

Opiate addiction is a physical and psychological dependence on opiates. To understand that further, it is important to know what opiates consist of. The opiate epidemic has taken far too many lives, with 68,630 Americans dying from opioid overdoses in 2020 alone.

With opioids and opiates being so dangerous, one may wonder, what’s the appeal? This article will define and explain opiate addiction, providing a closer look into this epidemic and how to fight it.

What Are Opiates?

Opiates are a natural substance derived from the poppy plant’s sap and fibers. The chemical compounds in opiates act as a central nervous system (CNS) depressant, so the drug is commonly used to treat pain. Prescription opiates include morphine and codeine, and illicit opiates include heroin and opium.

Opiates vs. Opioids: What’s the Difference?

Opiates are natural opioids extracted from the plant matter of the opium poppy plant. Opioids are chemical compounds made in a lab that are either semi-synthetic or fully synthetic. Semi-synthetic opioids, such as hydrocodone, oxycodone, and hydromorphone, are partially synthesized opioids derived from the poppy plant. Synthetic opioids, such as methadone, tramadol, and fentanyl, are manufactured in labs without any natural opium plant products.  

Why Does Opiate Dependence Occur?

When the body is dependent or addicted to opiates, it relies on the drug to function properly. The same idea applies to psychological dependence, as the individual becomes mentally reliant on opiates to complete day-to-day tasks and activities. 

When Does Withdrawal Occur?

The body works hard to maintain proper functioning while under the influence of opiates, and when opiate use ceases, withdrawal symptoms occur. This is because the body continues functioning as if the drug is still in the system, leading to physical and mental side effects and symptoms that range from mild to severe.

Opiate Addiction Statistics

Here are some opiate statistics to consider regarding addiction and misuse:
  • 21% to 29% of people who are prescribed opioids for pain misuse them
  • 8% to 12% of people who are prescribed opioids for pain develop opiate addictions
  • 4% to 6% of people who start out using opioids transition to heroin

Common Addictive Opiates

There are many addictive prescription opiates and opioids on the market. Here are some of the most common:


Oxycodone is prescribed to treat moderate to severe pain. Common brand names include OxyContin and Oxynorm.


Hydrocodone comes in the form of an extended-release tablet. It is used to treat pain and works as a cough suppressant. Common brand names include Vicodin, Norco, and Lortab.


Morphine comes in various concentrations and is used to treat severe pain. This prescription drug can be administered intravenously (IV) or orally as tablets. Common brand names include MS-Contin, Kadian, and Roxanol.


Codeine is used to treat moderate or severe pain. It can also be combined with other medications to work as a cough suppressant. Codeine commonly comes as a tablet, capsule, or liquid. 


Fentanyl is eighty to one hundred times stronger than morphine. It is often used to reduce pain in cancer patients. Fentanyl can be administered intravenously (IV), intramuscularly (IM), and transdermally (skin patch).

Opiate Addiction Causes and Side Effects

It is estimated that 10.1 million people in the U.S. misuse opioids. Between July 2016 and September 2017, emergency department visits for opioid overdose increased by 30%, and all opioid-related hospitalizations were 297 per 100,000 people.

It is clear that the opioid crisis is severe and ongoing, affecting millions of lives each year. Below we explore the causes, risk factors, signs, and side effects of opioid and opiate addiction.

Causes and Risk Factors of Opiate Addiction

There are a variety of factors that may increase the likelihood of opiate abuse and addiction. These include:

Genetic Factors
People with close relatives, such as parents, who have an opioid use disorder are more likely to develop one as well. This is largely due to genes that are passed down to children. Research has discovered that genes are linked to opioid dependence. For example, one study found that genes DAT, MAOA, and COMT are associated with impulsivity, increasing the likelihood of abusing drugs. Another study discovered that the dopamine D2 receptor, responsible for reward deficiency syndrome (RDS), is connected to substance-seeking behavior.

Biological Factors
Biological factors, such as brain chemistry, could increase the risk of developing opiate abuse issues and dependency. Additionally, previous drug use can alter the brain’s reward pathways, making people more susceptible to relapse.

Psychological Factors
People who struggle with stress, anxiety, depression, trauma, and other mental health conditions are more vulnerable to self-medicate with opiate drugs.

Environmental Factors
Many environmental factors can lead to opiate drug addiction. For example, the abundance of prescription opioids available and the commonality of doctors prescribing these addictive pain medications can greatly influence the increased rate of opiate addiction. In addition, socioeconomic status (SES) plays a role, as lower-income neighborhoods have higher rates of opioid prescriptions, addiction, and overdose.

Signs of Opiate Addiction

Common signs of opiate addiction include the following:

  • Flushed, itchy skin
  • Pinned eye pupils
  • Increased tolerance to the drug
  • Fatigue
  • Lack of energy
  • Trying to get higher doses/more of the drug from various doctors
  • Confusion
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when not using opiates

Withdrawal Symptoms of Opiate Addiction

The following include withdrawal symptoms that can occur when the body is no longer exposed to opiates:
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Nausea
  • Muscle pain
  • Anxiety
  • Sweating
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Tremors
  • Excessive yawning
  • Dilated pupils

Side Effects of Opiate Addiction

Opiate abuse can cause the following side effects:

  • Legal issues
  • Financial issues
  • Troubled relationships
  • Lack of self-care
  • Digestive issues
  • Poor dental health
  • Physical conditions that affect the heart, lungs, bones, and brain

How to Fight Opiate Addiction

Fighting back and recovering from opiate addiction is possible, especially with the right mentality. Beginning the road to sobriety starts in the mind—wanting to recover and seek treatment is crucial.

Steps to Combat Opiate Addiction

Opiate addiction is not easy to fight, but it can be done if you take the following steps.

Commit to Quitting
Opiate addiction treatment will only be effective if the person wants to quit. So the first step to take is to commit to quitting.

Get Help From Your Doctor
A medical professional can help people get the care they need. They can provide opiate addiction treatment directly or refer their patients to an opiate addiction treatment center so they can get the help they require.

Get Support
An opiate addiction treatment program will only be effective if the support of friends and family is present.

How Is Opiate Addiction Diagnosed?

Doctors will refer to the DSM-5 criteria for diagnosis of opioid use disorder to determine if someone has an opioid addiction

How to Help Someone With an Opioid Addiction

It can be difficult to convince someone to try opiate addiction recovery. It’s important to speak to them in a nonjudgmental manner and express how much that person means to them. If talking doesn’t help, an intervention may be necessary. 

Treatment for Opiate Addiction

Opiate addiction treatment includes the following steps:

Opiate Detox

This involves allowing the body to free itself from toxins and eliminate the opioid compounds from the system. Patients experience withdrawal symptoms during this stage, so it is important to detox at a medical center to ensure safety and comfort. 

Medications for Opiate Addiction

There are various medications doctors can prescribe to help patients through the rehab process. These include drugs that relieve withdrawal symptoms, decrease cravings, and address other symptoms or side effects that may be causing addiction, such as anxiety and depression.


Therapy will identify, address, and treat mental illness, triggers, and behaviors that may have caused opiate abuse and addiction.

Finding Help at Alta Centers

There are many opiate addiction rehab centers out there. But how do you choose the one that’s right for you? You must consider the price, environment, treatment options, and more. If you do a bit of research, you will find Alta Centers checks off all the boxes.

Alta Centers is an inpatient rehab in sunny Los Angeles, CA. We provide comprehensive care that starts with detox and ends with long-term recovery. We offer customized programs that fight opiate addiction at its root.

Opiate addiction can greatly reduce the quality of life. Alta Centers will give you the help you need to live a more positive, healthy, and full life. Contact us today to find out how we can get you the treatment you require.

Questions About Treatment?

Our knowledgeable team is ready to discuss your situation and options. Your call is confidential with no obligation required.

What is an Intervention?

In a situation involving substance use disorder, planning an intervention may be the best, and safest, option to help someone who is living with an addiction. So, what does intervention mean? An intervention is a strategically planned process of confronting the person who is living with addiction about the consequences of their actions while simultaneously encouraging them to accept help and treatment for their addiction.1

The key feature of an intercession is that while it can be an immensely helpful option in convincing a person that they should seek treatment, it should not be done solely by friends and family members. Without the aid of a specialist, or someone who is equally trained in the process of interventions, an intervention may do more harm than good.

An intervention specialist is someone that has been professionally trained in helping people break free from their addictions. They can help a person without judgment, emotions, or blame to understand how their actions are negatively impacting themselves and those that they care about.

When performed properly, without judgment or pressure, and with the aid of a qualified intercession specialist, 80-90% of substance use interventions are successful in convincing the patient to seek help.

Early Intervention

Treatment is more effective the earlier that it begins for an alcohol or drug abuse disorder. As with any other health condition, early intervention and treatment can prevent more significant problems further on in life.

Unfortunately, in many cases, an alcohol addiction intervention or a drug abuse intercession does not take place until most other options have been exhausted. It can be difficult for those struggling with a substance use disorder to realize or admit that they need help.

It often takes a life-altering event, such as a divorce, loss of employment, or a housing crisis for a person to be willing to seek treatment. Because early
alcohol and drug intercession can be so beneficial, first responders must be able to recognize the symptoms of substance abuse.3

What is a Nursing Intervention?

Nursing interventions are often the first time a patient will experience care for their disorder. It takes place when someone enters a care facility such as a clinic or hospital for a condition that may or may not be caused or exacerbated by their substance use disorder.

After initial evaluation and stabilization, a nurse will take action to help their patient by suggesting healthy physical or emotional coping mechanisms for a patient that wants to quit using the substance that they are addicted to. The nurse will also be able to offer education and information to the patient about other treatment facilities or care providers that can help them on their road to recovery.

Alcohol Intervention

A Further Look at Interventions

Nearly 50% of adults in America regularly drink alcohol, and it is believed that as many as 25% of those Americans have an alcohol addiction, most commonly in the form of binge drinking. In many situations, once a person with an alcohol use disorder realizes the way that alcohol is negatively impacting their life, they can reduce the amount that they drink, or even quit entirely, without outside assistance.

However, some people that have an alcohol use disorder are unable to see how their addiction is negatively affecting them. In this situation, an alcohol use intercession can be extremely beneficial. Some of the benefits of interventions include:

Drug Intervention

A Further Look at Interventions

Over nineteen million adults struggle with a drug abuse disorder and of those, nearly 74% also struggle with a co-existing alcohol abuse disorder. Drug abuse and addiction can be a much harder disorder to recover from than alcohol addiction, particularly due to the high rate of co-use that most people with a substance use disorder experience.

In many cases, suddenly stopping the use of an illicit substance can be just as harmful, if not more so than using the substance itself. The side effects and withdrawal symptoms that a person may experience when they decide to stop using a substance can be severe and at times life-threatening.

Luckily, substance use is a highly treatable disorder and several medications can help a person wean off of illicit substances in a safe, sustained, and monitored manner. A drug abuse intervention can help someone realize that they have options and that they can recover safely and healthily.

Questions About Treatment?

Our knowledgeable team is ready to discuss your situation and options. Your call is confidential with no obligation required.