Even though opioid addiction has led to a crisis in the United States, dependence on the drug doesn’t happen spontaneously overnight. Like most addictions, there are stages of opioid addiction. Over time, the substance changes the way the body reacts to its presence.
Addiction can look and feel differently for everyone, but the stages of opioid addiction are relatively linear and follow the same progression. In fact, the duration of each stage and how quickly it progresses can differ depending on the individual, the type of opioid being abused, and the dosage.
What Are Opioids?
Opioids are powerful drugs used to relieve pain. Opioids come from the opium poppy plant. They can be naturally derived or synthetic, medically prescribed or illicit. Regardless of their type, all opioids bind to opioid receptors in the body and decrease the amount of pain signals the body sends to the brain. This is how they help relieve pain.
Doctors prescribe opioids to relieve acute and chronic pain. This means that opioids can be used to help toothaches, severe dental procedures, mild injuries, pain after surgery, and cancer pain. When used as prescribed, opioids are typically safe. But all opioids have a risk of abuse.
Some of the most commonly prescribed opioid painkillers include:
Heroin, the street drug, is an illegal opioid that people smoke to experience a euphoric high.
What Are the Stages of Opioid Addiction?
Whether individuals use medically prescribed opioids or an illegal opioid like heroin, initiation is always the first stage that leads to opioid addiction.
Initiation happens when an individual tries a substance for the first time. Opioid initiation can happen at any time during a person’s life, but the National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that the majority of people with an addiction tried their drug of choice before they were 18 years old and had a substance use disorder by the time they were 20.
Just because someone takes a prescription opioid or uses heroin doesn’t mean that they will also develop an addiction. Some individuals consume opioids and stop using them with no problem. Usually, the decision to stop or continue using opioids depends on a wide range of factors, including:
- Drug availability
- Peer usage
- Family environment as well as drug and medical history
- Mental health (depression, anxiety, and other mental health disorders can encourage continued use)
In this stage, using opioids shifts from being a temporary prescription or recreational habit to a lifestyle. At this point, many individuals feel that life isn’t as comfortable or satisfying without opioids. They may also use opioids as a way of dealing with everyday life. Instead of using opioids periodically, the substance has become a normal part of their regular routine.
They may not use opioids every day, but they have developed a pattern of use. This pattern can look differently based on the individual, but some common regular use patterns can include taking opioids:
- Every weekend
- During periods of emotional distress
- When they’re lonely or bored
- During times of high stress
Prescription opioids are meant to be taken as directed by doctors. When individuals start taking opioid medications for reasons that aren’t consistent with legal or medical guidelines, they start misusing opioids. Opioid misuse can look different from person to person, but common examples include:
- Taking opioids that weren’t prescribed to you
- Taking more than the prescribed dosage
- Taking the drug more frequently than prescribed
- Taking the drug for a longer period of time than prescribed
- Taking prescription medication from a friend
Unlike misuse, opioid abuse usually happens for the sake of experiencing intense euphoria and pleasure. Often, individuals who abuse opioids don’t actually have a prescription for the drug they’re taking, but some do.
Some of the most common adverse effects of opioid abuse include:
- Brain fog
- Muscle pain
- Difficulty breathing
Opioid Dependence and Withdrawal
When individuals become dependent on opioids, they need a consistent supply of the substance to feel “normal.” They feel this way because their brains and bodies have started to rely on opioids. Eventually, the brain starts to consider opioids a physical and psychological need. When this happens, if an individual abruptly stops or lessens the amount of opioids they use, the body will react negatively.
Typically, this adverse reaction includes symptoms of withdrawal. These symptoms usually vary from person to person, but can include:
- Watery eyes
- Dilated pupils
- Abdominal pain
- Fast heart rate
- Cravings for opioids
By the time individuals have reached full-blown opioid addiction, they compulsively use opioids despite negative consequences. Most likely, they’re not taking time to consider their actions. Most of their thoughts are focused on obtaining the next high. Their personality and behavior may have changed so much that family members and close friends may not even recognize them.
Individuals addicted to opioids will feel as if they can’t stop using the substance. They may have a desire to quit, but without professional help, will likely disappoint themselves and end up using opioids again. This happens because their brains have become hard-wired to seek out opioids.
In this stage, individuals’ brains have become hijacked by the reward system which is primarily focused on obtaining, experiencing, and maintaining pleasurable sensations. Because of this, individuals addicted to opioids may neglect their basic needs. Their grooming habits may diminish or disappear altogether. They may skip meals and avoid sleep. They might even neglect showing up to work. If they do show up to work, their performance might be so subpar that they lose their job, which can directly affect their living situation and quality of life.
Treatment For A Thriving, Substance-Free Life
Here at Aftermath Addiction Treatment Center, we know that addiction doesn’t happen overnight. In fact, the stages of opioid addiction are many. However, we also know that evidence-based treatment programs like ours can help treat all stages of opioid use disorder.
Remember that opioids don’t have to continue to rule your life. Opioid addiction can be overcome. We can help you regain control of your life. Let us help you get there. Contact us today at 855-795-1226 to learn more about how we can help you begin, continue or start your journey toward a thriving, substance-free life.