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Can prescribed medication lead to opioid addiction?

Typically, prescription opioids are used for pain relief and are safe when taken for a short time. Opioid addiction is a chronic condition in which an individual experiences intense physical and psychological reliance on opioids, leading to compulsive behavior that may have harmful consequences.

Opioid dependency leads to an uncontrollable urge, which increases the risk of overdose and continuation of substance use even after severe health issues. Prescribed opioid abuse is when you take a medication for a reason other than intended or in a higher amount than is prescribed. Even if taken as prescribed, tolerance can increase, which leads to the need for a higher prescribed dose.

There are measures to avoid overprescribing by physicians, but this can still be a very challenging task. Even though the opioid, in this case, is a prescription, the medicine can be highly addictive if consumed for a long time, especially if taken to boost feelings of pleasure.

What is the treatment for opioid dependence or abuse?

Opioid dependence and addiction are chronic medical conditions. However, early and proper treatment can help to avoid the long-term health consequences associated with opioid dependence. It takes immense willpower to break the dependence chain, but it is possible to escape from the cycle of drug abuse. It can be a lengthy process, but medication and regular counseling will help you overcome opioid addiction. Psychological and social factors play a role in continually using opioids. The brain receives endorphins that lead to the pleasure of using the opioid, which can be a vital trigger element. There is also a physical aspect of addiction, in which your body becomes physically dependent on the opioid. When opioids are decreased suddenly, withdrawal occurs, which can be highly uncomfortable. Medication-assisted treatment and counseling make the release from drug abuse much more manageable. Statistically, this provides the best success for long-term opioid abstinence.

What happens when you misuse or become dependent on opioids?

Due to ease of availability, the misuse of opioids has increased. Opioids are highly addictive, and they trigger the release of endorphins. Endorphins reduce the perception of pain and immensely boost feelings of pleasure. Adverse effects of opioids lead to constipation, drowsiness, mental confusion, euphoria, nausea, and even slow or stopped breathing. Long-term use of opioids can lead to drug dependency, where drug use needs to be increased to achieve the same effect. Abrupt discontinuing opioids after long-term use leads to unpleasant withdrawal symptoms. The withdrawal symptoms include both physical and psychological symptoms. Physical symptoms include vomiting, diarrhea, muscle and bone pain, fatigue and exhaustion, restlessness, headaches, heart palpitations, shaking and shivering, etc. In contrast, psychological symptoms can be depression, anxiety, insomnia, confusion, difficulty focusing or concentrating, intense cravings for opioids, etc.

What are the medications for opioid addiction?

The FDA has approved three medications for the treatment of opioid dependence. They are as follows:


Methadone is an opioid agonist that relieves drug craving by acting on opioid receptors in the brain, the same receptors that opioids activate. It also relieves withdrawal symptoms. Methadone is effective for treating opioid use disorder, although there is also a risk of overdose. 


Buprenorphine is another medication approved for treating opioid use disorder. Buprenorphine is a partial agonist, meaning there is a ceiling effect on the brain receptors. It is also less risky when discussing overdose. Since it is a partial opioid agonist, there is less concern for overdose. These are the main reasons most specialists favor Buprenorphine in combination with Naloxone, also known as Suboxone. Naloxone works as an antagonist with the sole purpose of being a deterrent. If Suboxone is injected, the individual will experience an opioid block instead of feeling the euphoric rush. Thus, decreasing the likelihood of abusing the medication.


Naltrexone binds to the opioid receptors in your brain and blocks the opioid from binding to those same receptors; this is called an antagonist. If an individual takes an opioid while they have Naltrexone in their body, in that case, the effects of the opioid will be blocked, thus preventing the drug from causing the “high.”

Naltrexone does not help prevent opioid withdrawal symptoms as Methadone and Buprenorphine do. Still, it does help to decrease cravings. It is best for those seeking to treat opioid use disorder without using another opioid. 


Counseling with a qualified, experienced specialist helps you deal with social and personal problems you might have after abstinence from opioids. You may go through difficulties at work or home, feel depressed, and lose self-confidence. Your counseling should include Cognitive behavioral therapy, motivational interviewing, and contingency management therapy.

What are the risk factors for opioid addiction?

Opioids can become highly addictive if taken differently than prescribed. Taking more than the intended amount or frequent use of opioids without consulting an expert can lead to addiction. There are many risk factors for opioid addiction; they are as follows:

  • Untreated psychiatric disorders
  • Environments that encourage misuse
  • Younger age
  • Prior history of substance abuse
  • Childhood maltreatment

It is important to note that anyone who uses opioids can become addicted. Still, these risk factors are associated with higher misuse, abuse, and addiction rates.

Counseling with a qualified, experienced specialist helps you deal with social and personal problems you might have after abstinence from opioids. You may go through difficulties at work or home, feel depressed, and lose self-confidence. Your counseling should include cognitive behavioral therapy, motivational interviewing, and contingency management therapy.

What are the warning signs of opioid abuse?

Opioid prescriptions that treat moderate to severe pain can be misused, leading to dependency and addiction. It is not always readily apparent when an individual struggles with opioid abuse. Often, they can maintain their job and manage responsibilities, which gives the appearance of stability at work and at home. Though these symptoms can be challenging to detect, they can be identified with time.

The most common signs include:

  • Uncontrollable craving for opioids
  • Drowsiness
  • Changes in sleep patterns
  • Weight loss
  • Lack of hygiene
  • Decreased libido
  • Stealing from family or friends
  • Isolation
  • Financial difficulties

If some of the symptoms mentioned above are seen collectively, you or your loved one may need medical help. It is best to consult an addiction specialist knowledgeable in opioid addiction treatment.

How can I tell if a loved one is experiencing opioid withdrawals?

The prolonged use of opioids changes how the brain functions, thus causing physical dependence and requiring a steady supply of opioids. If an individual becomes physically sick after cessation of opioid use, it can be a sign that dependency has developed. Opioid withdrawal is a set of symptoms that arises from the sudden reduction of opioid consumption. 

There are multiple signs of opioid withdrawal; they are as follows:

  • Anxiety
  • Restlessness
  • Insomnia
  • Yawning
  • Cold
  • Watery eyes
  • Dilated pupils
  • Body aches
  • Sweating
  • Vomiting
  • Belly cramps
  • Diarrhea
  • Fever
  •  Fast heartbeat
  • Rapid breathing
  • High blood pressure
  • Hallucinations
  • Seizures

If you see the above symptoms in a loved one, they may be experiencing opioid withdrawal. Symptoms typically begin within the first 24 hours of opioid cessation and usually start to improve within 72 hours. 

Different drugs remain in your system for different amounts of time; this can affect the onset of withdrawal symptoms.

How can I tell if a loved one is overdosing on opioids?

Recognizing an opioid overdose can be a life-saving event. Overdose is a medical emergency.

While someone is experiencing an overdose, it is vital to know they may not have every symptom. The appearance of any of these symptoms is cause for concern; they include:

  • Slow or irregular breathing
  • Constricted, tiny “pinpoint” pupils
  • Blue lips or fingertips
  • Nodding off and sleeping
  • Gurgling sounds
  • Unresponsiveness
  • No response to agitation


Once a person has overdosed, they are not capable of helping themselves. Others must know how to help someone who overdoses – it can save their life. If you suspect someone is experiencing an overdose, always call 911. If the person is not breathing, perform CPR. Administer Narcan if available; this is the quickest way to counteract an overdose. 

Are there links between opioid painkillers and heroin addiction?

pioids generally are prescribed to treat moderate to severe pain. Opioids are frequently misused because they can create euphoria in addition to pain relief. Regular use of opioids, even as medicine, increases the tolerance level and causes dependency. As the dependence on opioids gradually increases, one has to increase the intake of the opioid dose to achieve the same amount of pleasure or pain relief. When a person’s tolerance level increases and surpasses the prescription, opioids are often substituted by heroin. Heroin is more potent than prescription opioids and only needs a small amount to feel the euphoric effects. Over time, heroin, initially used as a substitute substance, can gradually become necessary to avoid the withdrawal symptoms. Eventually, the person gets addicted to heroin and falls under the trap of heroin dependence. Unfortunately, this scenario occurs too often, and an individual that began prescription opioids to treat pain can become addicted to heroin.

How do I help someone who has overdosed on opioids?

An overdose on opioids can be a life-threatening event. If you encounter someone who has overdosed on opioids, it is crucial to know how to respond. The first step is to call 911. Then, administer Narcan if you have it available. Narcan is a drug that reverses the effects of an opioid overdose. Keep the person comfortable and monitor their breathing until help arrives.

It is essential to recognize the signs of an opioid overdose; they are as follows:

  • Unconsciousness, or inability to wake up
  • Limp body
  • Falling asleep, extreme drowsiness
  • Slow, shallow, irregular, or no breathing
  • Pale, blue, cold, or clammy skin
  • Choking, snoring, or gurgling sounds
  • Slow or no heartbeat
  • Very small or “pinpoint” pupils

If these signs are suspected, begin by trying to wake the person by speaking loudly or rubbing the breastbone with knuckles. If the individual does not respond, administer Narcan if it is available. Administer a second dose of Narcan if the person is still unresponsive after 2-3 minutes and professional emergency responders have not arrived.

If the person is not breathing or responding, immediately offer first aid. Do this by positioning the body so that the airway is open. Offer rescue breathing, and if you are trained, begin performing CPR. Continue to perform CPR until medical professionals arrive or until the Narcan starts to work. Note that it may take 5 minutes or more for signs of overdose to reverse.

Seek medical help immediately if you or someone you know has overdosed on opioids.

What are the best treatments for opioid addiction?

Opioid dependence and addiction are chronic medical conditions. However, early and proper treatment can help to avoid long-term health consequences. 

There are three FDA-approved medications used for opioid addiction; they are as follows:

  1. Suboxone: Suboxone is a partial agonist that effectively treats opioid addiction. It works by acting on opioid receptors in the brain to reduce cravings. Suboxone is the combination of the medicines Buprenorphine and Naloxone. The combination of these two medications lowers the likelihood of overdose or abuse.
  2. Methadone: Methadone is a full opioid agonist that relieves drug cravings. Like Suboxone, it acts on opioid receptors in the brain, the same receptors that opioids activate. Methadone is more likely to be abused or overdosed when compared to Suboxone. 
  3. Naltrexone: Naltrexone is an opioid antagonist, which means that it blocks the euphoric effects of opioids. Naltrexone does not relieve opioid withdrawal symptoms as Methadone and Suboxone do because it is not an opioid. Naltrexone is not addictive, and if stopped, it does not cause withdrawal symptoms. It is effective at reducing cravings, similar to Suboxone and Methadone. There is no potential for abuse of Naltrexone. 


Can drug and alcohol abuse lead to mental health issues?

Alcohol and drugs, if misused for an extended period, can cause severe mental health issues like stress, anxiety, depression, and memory loss. Alcohol and drugs can disrupt the day-to-day function of the human brain. Alcohol, for instance, is a depressant that will disturb the brain’s chemical balance, affecting thoughts, feelings, and actions. Both alcohol and drugs cause the brain to have chemical changes that weaken the part of the brain associated with inhibition. Common mood changes are aggression, a false sense of confidence, anxiety, depression, and even suicidal thoughts. Drugs, in particular, have been connected to mental health by causing psychiatric despair like post-traumatic stress, anxiety, and phobias. Such health issues also occur when those dependent on drugs suffer from withdrawal symptoms. Alcohol and drug abuse can have a significant impact on the mental well-being of an individual. Psychosis is a mental health issue that can be caused or worsened by alcohol or drugs. Psychosis is a cognitive disruption in which someone’s thoughts and perceptions become severely impaired, making it challenging to distinguish between what is real and what isn’t. The symptoms can be hallucinations, delusions, confusion, and disturbing thoughts, behaviors, and emotions.
Drugs are known to spark psychotic mental health issues. Still, the combination of drugs and alcohol can have an even more severe impact. Psychosis is something that also can be related to self-harming and even suicide.

What is a high-functioning alcoholic?

High-Functioning Alcoholic describes a person struggling with Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) while maintaining a job and relationships. This means someone who can perform and succeed in their career and family life without demonstrating the clinical impairments typically associated with AUD. According to statistics, 19.5% of total alcoholics in the USA are high-functioning alcoholics. A statistic from the Harvard School of Public Health specifies that 31% of college-goers are dealing with AUD, and 6% are alcohol dependent. Most high-functioning alcoholics are not counted as alcoholics by society because they do not fit the general alcoholic classification. High-functioning alcoholics typically admit to drinking more alcohol than they should but deny it is a problem. There are no official diagnostic criteria to determine if someone is a High-Functioning Alcoholic.

What makes alcohol addictive?

Alcohol is the most widely used addictive substance. According to a report by NCADD, more than 17 million Americans are addicted to alcohol, which is increasing daily. The gradual increase in the rates of alcohol addiction forces us to think: What makes alcohol so addictive?
There are mainly two factors that are responsible for alcohol addiction; they are as follows:

1. Physical Factor
Alcohol changes brain chemistry and functions. As the brain adapts, it becomes physically dependent. Without supplying the brain and body with alcohol, the individual will experience withdrawal symptoms. Alcohol must be consumed regularly to prevent withdrawal, leading to greater dependence and addiction.

2. Psychological Factor
Drinking alcohol triggers the secretion of dopamine and endorphin hormones in the brain. These hormones create an illusion of pleasure and satisfaction, which give a euphoric rush. During the repetitive cycle of drinking alcohol to prevent stress, anxiety, and other negative thoughts, gradual alcohol dependence can develop.

What are the effects of drinking every day?

Drinking alcohol every day has severe physical and mental consequences. Alcohol can affect organs like the heart, kidney, liver, and gastrointestinal tract. The diuretic effects of alcohol decrease fluid in the body. Therefore, making the heart work harder to push out the same amount of blood, causing high blood pressure, arrhythmia, and even stroke. Alcohol intake increases the amount of urine produced. The kidneys have to filter a concentrated fluid that contains harmful toxins, thus leading to kidney function decline. The liver is another organ that takes a hit from chronic alcohol consumption. Heavy intake of alcohol creates scars on the liver tissues, leading to liver failure. Other effects of chronic alcohol abuse are cirrhosis, fibrosis, high cholesterol, and a weakened immune system. 

Daily use of alcohol can have severe mental side effects. Symptoms include antisocial behaviors, anxiety, cravings, depression, irritability, panic, and sleep disorders.

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