To understand opioid addiction, we first need to know what an opioid is. Opioids are substances that are used as pain killers. Opioids generally have addictive properties; people who take these drugs frequently may be addicted to them. They should be taken only on prescription of a certified medical practitioner and for the time prescribed. Many people take opioids without prescription and whenever they want, this habit could lead to addiction. Some popular opioid drugs are opium, codeine, fentanyl, heroin, hydrocodone, hydromorphone, methadone, morphine, oxycodone, oxymorphone, paregoric, sufentanil and tramadol.

Opioid addiction affects brain functions and could lead to behavioural changes. Opioids have a relaxing and pleasurable effect, which leaves the user in want of more. This want ultimately leads to addiction. If opioids are used frequently it affects the brain adversely. Opioids attaches to sites in the brain called opioid receptors. The human body also makes its own opioids, which are known as endorphins. But laboratory made opioids are usually pain killer drugs, which gives a relaxing and pleasurable feeling. They make user dependent on them and they get addicted to them. When a person becomes dependent upon opioids, he needs proper treatment to get over it.

Common Types of Opioids

Opioids are prescribed legally by doctors for pain, cough suppression or opioid dependence. Some people take it illegally for mood-alteration or euphoria. They are sedatives in nature and relax pain and induce a feeling of enjoyment or pleasure. Every user using opioid cannot be called as an opioid addict. If it is taken on prescription and the user follows the instructions of the doctor, then he will not turn into an addict. But if opioid is taken frequently as desired, it could have addictive effects. Frequent use could lead to opioid dependency and the user may develop withdrawal symptom, when deprived of it.

Some of the most common opioid medicines are as follows-

  • Codeine—It is found in medicines such as Tylenol #3, Fiorinal or Fiorecet #3, and in some cough syrups.
  • Hydrocodone—This is a common opioid find in drugs such as Vicodin, Lortab, and Lorcet.
  • Oxycodone—This opioid is found in Percodan, Percocet and OxyContin.
  • Hydromorphone—Another common opioid, which is found in Dilaudid.
  • Morphine— MS Contin, Kadian and MSIR contain morphin.
  • Fentanyl—Fentanyl in Duragesic is also an opioid.
  • Tramadol
  • Methadone
  • Buprenorphine

All these medicinal opioids may turn addictive but they are prescribed for betterment of patient and some of them are also used for treatment of other substance abuses. Opiate and narcotic are generally used interchangeably with the term opioid, although they are not accurately same. The opioids being abused are mostly procured through illegal means. They are not bought from drug dealers as they are not sold without prescription.

Mechanism of Opioid Addiction

Opioid could be taken by mouth, nasally, smoking or injecting it. When it reaches the blood stream of the user, it travels to the brain too. There it attaches to opioid receptor in the brain, and the pain is reduced and a sense of sedation arises. Some people may feel mild pleasure, sensation or a sense of well-being after using opioids. Those who have feeling of pleasure after using opioid are more prone to fall its prey. They start using opioids frequently as a mood enhancer and ultimately develop addiction for it. The changes in brain caused due to opioids may lead to intense euphoric feeling and could lead to in long-term changes in the structure and the function of the brain. This produces behavirol changes in the addict too. They lose ability to control their urge for opioids and use them even they stop giving pleasure. Opioid has rapid effect if it is snorted, inhaled or injected.

The person gets highly dependent on opioid and becomes a compulsive user. It could be seen through several behavioral changes such as loss of control over use of opioid, spending lots of time over obtaining, using or recovering from using opioids, avoiding responsibilities at school, work, or childcare, unsuccessful attempts to quit and using opioids despite of adverse effects on health, job, finances or family.