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What are the Different Types of Opioids?

Learn more about the different types of opioids, how opioids are used, common types of prescription opioids, and treatment options.

What are Opioids?

Opioids are substances naturally from the opium poppy plant. 1  These drugs work in the brain to produce various effects, including pain relief. Opioids can either be prescription medications, prescribed as pain killers, or street drugs like heroin. 2  Another name for opioids is narcotics. The drugs effectively block pain signals between the body and the brain.

Prescription opioids and other major types of opioids are becoming increasingly common within and outside the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, over 191 million opioid medications were dispensed to U.S patients in 2017.

How are Opioids Used?

Intake of prescription opioids should be by the doctor’s instructions. Most individuals take opioids in the form of the pill or as lollipops and lozenges.

It’s common for doctors to prescribe opioids for recovery from surgery, pain relating to cancer, and chronic headaches. However, there’s a tendency to develop tolerance and dependence with regular intake. In some instances, long-term intake of opioids can result in addiction to the substance.

How Opioids Work

When an individual consumes an opioid medication, the opioids attach to the opioid receptors. In the brain, opioid receptors are proteins found on the nerve cells in the brain, spinal cord, and other parts of the body. The process allows various classes of opioids to block pain signals from the body through the spinal cord to the brain.

What are the Different Types of Opioids?

The types of opioids can be categorized into naturally occurring and synthetic ones. Here’s what to know about these opioid types:

Natural Opioids vs. Synthetic Opioids

Natural and synthetic opioids have different properties. These will be detailed below.

Natural Opioids

Natural occurring opioids are also called opiates. This substance gets extracted from Papaver somniferum, also the opium poppy. Significant examples of opioids include narcotine, codeine, thebaine, morphine, papaverine, and narceine.

Synthetic Opioids

Synthetic opioids can either involve compounds associated with natural sources or total synthesis. These opioids include heroin, oxymorphone, hydrocodone, fentanyl, buprenorphine, methadone, and oxycodone.

Opioid Pain Medications

The doctor typically prescribes opioid medications. Significant examples of these opioid types include codeine, oxycodone, fentanyl, morphine, hydrocodone, and oxymorphone.

Illegal Opioids

Illegal opioids include semi-synthetic and synthetic opioids. A major example of illicit opioid types is heroin and other synthetic variations. Heroin is one of the major types of illegal opioids from morphine, and it’s also very addictive in nature.

Common Types of Prescription Opioids


Out of the various types of opioids, this kind is usually a replacement in treating methadone and heroin dependence. It’s known to have severe interactions with substances like alcohol.


One of the most common prescription opioids is codeine. The substance is for the treatment of mild to moderate levels of pain. Doctors may also prescribe the use of codeine in combination with other medications for coughing.


Among the different types of prescription opioids, this medication is much more potent than morphine and has a high risk for addiction and dependence. In high doses, intake of fentanyl can result in respiratory distress and loss of life.


The intake of methadone proves to be relatively safer compared to other opioid medications. The substance changes how the brain interacts with the nervous system and responds to pain. Methadone also helps black the high from substances like codeine.


In the body, opium functions as a depressant drug. It slows down the signals traveling between the body and the brain. Other names for the substance include Aunti, Big O, Black pill, Chinese Molasses, and Dopium.


Doctors always advise intake of oxycodone according to the appropriate prescription. The drug is highly habit-forming and may cause breathing problems at high doses.

Side Effects and Dangers of Opioids Use

The side effects of opioid intake can range from mild to severe depending on certain factors. These factors include frequency of intake, the types of opioids, and quantity. When feeling any of these opioid side effects, the individual must consult with a licensed health expert for help. 4 

Common Side Effects of Opioid Drug Intake

  • Euphoria
  • Respiratory depression
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Drowsiness
  • Sleepiness
  • Sense of warmth

Serious and Long Term-Side Effects of Opioids

  • Physical dependence
  • Hormonal imbalance
  • High risk of heart attack
  • Hyperalgesia
  • Sleep-disordered breathing problems


Using Opioids with Other Drugs

The combination of opioids with other substances can result in various life-threatening effects. It’s advisable to avoid combining opioids with drugs, especially those that can cause drowsiness. Examples of these substances include hypnotics, muscle relaxants, and benzodiazepines.

Dangers of Sudden Discontinuation of Opioid Intake

Sudden discontinuation of opioid intake may cause withdrawal symptoms. These symptoms typically occur because the individual has built a dependence on the substance. Here are some of the major opioid’s list of withdrawal symptoms: 3 

  • Anxiety
  • Insomnia
  • Runny nose
  • Vomiting
  • Dilated pupils
  • Restlessness
  • Goosebumps
  • Body aches
  • Fever
  • Hallucinations
  • Seizures

Types of Opioids

Treatment for Opioids Addiction and Abuse

The first step to addiction treatment for any substance, including opioids, is recognizing the problem. Due to dependence, it can be challenging to give up the intake of opioids safely. Hence, it’s important to consult a licensed health expert for help. Below are the treatment options for opioid addiction.

Opioid Addiction Treatment Options

Some of the treatment options for opioid addiction include:

Opioid Detox

The process of detox involves safely removing opioids from the body. Detox is safe under medical supervision and may involve the use of medications.

Behavioral Therapies

In opioid addiction treatment, behavioral therapies are imperative for changing an individual’s behavior causing addiction. It teaches life skills to help cope with situations to prevent drug misuse or relapse.


Doctors and mental health experts may prescribe certain medications for opioid addiction treatment. Some of these drugs include buprenorphine, methadone, and naloxone. Naloxone is one of the most common types of opioids. It is for reversing the effects of opioid overdose. Medical experts administer the substance when individuals begin to display signs of opioid overdose. However, it’s a temporal treatment, and the effects of opioids like naloxone don’t last for long.4 

Contact an Addiction Professional at Alta Centers Now

If you or your loved one is facing any challenge due to the intake of opioids, reach out to a licensed professional. Alter Centers provide support and care for every individual seeking help for addiction treatment. Let us support you through this journey. Contact us today.

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.