Opioid abuse occurs when the compulsive use of opioids harms a person’s health or social functioning, or when a person is addicted to or dependent on opioids. Addiction and dependence means having a physical need for continued use of a drug (dependence) versus a psychological drive (addiction) for continued use of a drug. Addiction and dependence may occur at the same time.

Opioids are a class of drugs made from opium, as well as synthetic or semi-synthetic drugs that resemble these opium-based drugs. Opioids include heroin, morphine, codeine , hydrocodone, oxycodone , and fentanyl . Opioid drugs are also often referred to as narcotic drugs or narcotics.

This condition can be treated. Talk to your doctor if you think you are abusing opioids.


Opioids produce a quick, intense feeling of pleasure (euphoria), followed by a sense of well-being and calm drowsiness. When opioids are used repeatedly, your brain is likely to become dependent on them. Opioids are a highly addictive type of drug.

Chemical Release in Brain

Opioids stimulate the release of "euphoric" chemicals in the brain. Over time, more drug is required to produce the same release, leading to opioid abuse.
© 2009 Nucleus Medical Art, Inc.

Risk Factors

The following factors increase your chances of developing opioid abuse. If you have any of these risk factors, tell your doctor:

  • Gender: male
  • Age: 20-29
  • Abusing other types of drugs
  • Having a psychological disorder


The symptoms below are associated with opioid abuse. If you experience any one of them, see your physician.

  • Tolerance—need to sequentially increase dosage to have the same drug effect
  • Withdrawal (see below)—adverse symptoms occur when the drug is not taken
  • Increasing amounts of time spent drug-seeking
  • Interference of drug or drug-seeking behavior with social, occupational, or school functioning
  • Continued use of drugs despite obvious social, legal, occupational, or interpersonal problems stemming from drug use
  • Desire or efforts made to decrease or stop drug use

Opioid withdrawal symptoms:

  • Aching
  • Fever
  • Sweating
  • Chills
  • Craving
  • Diarrhea , nausea, vomiting
  • Sleeplessness
  • Pain, muscle aches
  • Goose pimples
  • Uncontrollable shivering, tremors
  • Restlessness
  • Tearing eyes, runny nose
  • Yawning


Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history, and perform a physical exam. He will ask you specific questions about your opioid use, such as how long you have been using opioids and how often you use them. Urine drug screens or serum drug tests may be performed to verify the presence of opioid drugs in your system.


Talk with your doctor about the best treatment plan for you. Treatment options include the following:

Rehabilitation Programs

In rehabilitation programs, people with opioid abuse stay in a controlled environment for 6-12 months, during which they learn to become reintegrated into society. It may be necessary to be in a detoxification center initially, where the side effects of drug withdrawal can be safely managed.

Support Groups

Similar in format to Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous is a twelve-step type program that has a good record for supporting individuals who are recovering from addiction to opioid drugs.

Behavioral Therapy

Behavioral therapies to help people quit are designed to modify people’s attitudes and behaviors related to opioid abuse. In therapy, you will learn how to avoid and cope with situations in which you are most likely to use drugs.


These medications have been shown to be effective in reducing withdrawal symptoms:

When combined with therapy, these medications can help you to adjust to not using drugs. They may also help you to go through withdrawal at home, rather than at an inpatient facility.


The best way to prevent this condition is to never use opoids. They can be highly addictive. If you do have to take prescription drugs to treat pain, follow the directions closely.