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 individual's 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. Watch this video to learn how to talk about addiction while avoiding stigma: How to Talk about Addiction.

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 illicit opioids, 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 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 is a very potent prescription pain medication that is typically obtained illicitly. Fentanyl is 100 times more potent than morphine and 50 times more potent than heroin. 
  • Methadone 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
  • Increased isolation and need for privacy
  • Secretive about phone calls and whereabouts
  • Mood swings
  • 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
  • Increased feelings of anxiety
  • Neglecting chores and household duties
  • Lying and/or stealing
  • Possession of drug paraphernalia

Click here for more information on how to talk with youth about substance use.

Language Matters

“Words have the power to build up or destroy a person. We can be part of the solution.”

Marissa Angerer- Mother, Friend, Lawyer, Person in Recovery

The language we use to describe individuals experience addiction can have an impact on how they are perceived, and others feel about them. You can help fight stigma by using language that is supportive, nonjudgmental, and treat people with respect and compassion. 


Review Shatterproof's language guide for suggestions on language adjustments you can make by clicking here: Shatterproof-Language-Guide.pdf(PDF, 1MB)