Facts on Addiction and Opioids
What is Addiction?
Addiction is a primary, chronic disease of the brain’s reward, motivation, memory, and related circuitry. Dysfunction in these circuits leads to characteristics biological, psychological, social, and spiritual manifestations. This is reflected in an individuals pathologically pursuing reward and/or relief by substance use and other behaviors.
Addiction is characterized by inability to consistently abstain, impairment in behavioral control, craving, diminished recognition of significant problems with one’s behaviors and interpersonal relationships, and a dysfunctional emotional response. Like other chronic diseases, addiction often involves cycles of relapse and remission. Without treatment or engagement in recovery activities, addiction is progressive and can result in disability or premature death. American Society of Addiction Medicine
Risk factors for addiction
- Genetic – Person with family member who has addiction is at greater risk.
- Environmental – Parents not involved with children, peer use, social settings.
- Early use – More likely to develop addiction if use starts when young.
- Smoking or injecting – More addictive because drug passes directly into bloodstream and brain without being filtered through liver and other organs.
What are Opioids?
Opioids (also sometimes called narcotics) are powerful substances related to chemicals found in the opium poppy plant. Some opioids are used medically for pain relief. Opioids are highly addictive. A person is at risk of developing an addiction to opioids after 3-5 days of taking a prescribed pain reliever. Approximately 3/4 of individuals who use heroin, started by using opioid pain relievers. Taking too many or taking very potent opioids can cause an overdose, which may result in death. Some examples of opioids include:
- Heroin (aka Black Tar, Dope, Junk, or Smack) is not used medically, but can be bought on the street and is injected, smoked, or snorted. Heroin is also sometimes contaminated with fentanyl, carfentanil, and other very potent drugs, increasing the risk of accidental overdose and death.
- Oxycodone (aka OxyContin, Oxy, Percocet, Percodan, Roxicet, and Endocet),
Hydrocodone (aka Vicodin, Norco, Lortab, Lorcet, and Vicoprofen),
Codeine (found in combination medicines such as Tylenol #3 or Robitussin AC),
Hydromorphone (aka Dilaudid), and
Morphine (aka MS Contin and Roxanol) are all strong prescription pain medications, sometimes found in combination pills with acetaminophen (Tylenol) or other medicines.
- Fentanyl (aka Sublimaze, Subsys, Duragesic, and China White) is a very potent prescription pain medication that is increasingly abused. Fentanyl is 100 times more potent than morphine and 50 times more potent than heroin. Only a tiny amount can cause a fatal overdose.
- Methadone (aka Dolphin) is a long-acting prescription opioid that is sometimes used as part of the medical treatment of opioid addiction.
All of these drugs can be deadly, but help is available to treat people struggling with addiction.
Signs of Opioid Use
Below are signs of opioid use. You can find more here. Learn more about the signs of an overdose and what to do.
- Changes in physical appearance
- Loss of weight
- Slurred speech
- Unsteady gait
- Red bloodshot eyes
- Poor hygiene
- Increased isolation and need for privacy
- Secretive about phone calls and whereabouts
- Mood swings
- Extreme changes in appetite or sleep patterns
- Poor attendance at school
- Little interest in family activities
- Spending more money with no explanation
- Sudden changes in friends – hanging out with other drug users
- Increased feelings of anxiety
- Neglecting chores and household duties
- Lying and/or stealing
- Possession of drug paraphernalia
- Increased defiance and talking back
Click here for more information on how to talk with youth about substance use.