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Opioid Abuse and Addiction

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Prescription Misuse

According to data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), an estimated 10.1 million Americans aged 12 or older misused opioids in 2019, including prescription pain relievers and heroin. Of those, approximately 1.6 million people had an opioid use disorder.

Navigation: Are Prescription Opioids Dangerous?, Opioid Abuse and Addiction: Why Do People Misuse their Prescriptions?, Drug Abuse and Addiction, Lack of Information, Seeking a High, Psychological Factors, Self-Medication, Peer Pressure, Easy Access to Prescription Drugs, How to Prevent Prescription Drug Misuse, Opioid Addiction Treatment: What to Expect, Rehab Is your Best Chance


Opioids are a class of drugs that are commonly prescribed for pain management. They are used to relieve pain associated with surgery, injury, or chronic conditions like cancer or arthritis. Examples of opioids include oxycodone, hydrocodone, codeine, and morphine. Even heroin is an opioid, although it is an illegal drug.

Opioids work by binding to receptors in the brain and body to reduce pain and produce feelings of pleasure or euphoria.

Unfortunately, opioids have a deadly side to them. Opioid addiction, also known as opioid use disorder, is a serious public health problem in the United States.

According to data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), an estimated 10.1 million Americans aged 12 or older misused opioids in 2019, including prescription pain relievers and heroin. Of those, approximately 1.6 million people had an opioid use disorder.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) reports that opioid abuse has become a major public health crisis in the United States in recent years, with an increasing number of people dying from opioid overdoses each year.

According to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), there were over 49,000 opioid overdose deaths in the United States in 2019, and over 1.6 million Americans had an opioid use disorder.

The opioid epidemic has been fueled in part by the over-prescription of opioids for pain management, as well as the availability of illicit opioids like heroin and fentanyl.

The misuse of opioids can lead to addiction, overdose, and other serious health consequences. Efforts to address the opioid epidemic include increasing access to addiction treatment, improving prescription drug monitoring programs, and reducing the supply of illicit opioids.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) recommends a comprehensive approach to addressing opioid abuse, including prevention, early intervention, and treatment. This may include education and awareness campaigns, prescription drug monitoring programs, and the use of evidence-based treatments, such as medication-assisted treatment (MAT) and behavioral therapies.

So how does being given prescription medicines turn into substance abuse or addiction? Here we will explore some of the reasons why people misuse prescription drugs.


Are Prescription Opioids Dangerous?

Normally, prescription drugs are not supposed to be dangerous. But if these opioids are not used properly, they can have serious adverse physical and mental health effects.

For example, opioids are normally used as pain relievers. If you use them to treat anxiety or sleep disorders, they may actually worsen your condition in the long term.

Misused prescription drugs, particularly opioids, can have serious side effects. There is even the risk of having an opioid overdose if you are not careful.

Overdose is a major risk associated with prescription opioids. In recent years, the United States has seen a significant increase in opioid-related overdoses. Overdose can occur when someone takes too much of an opioid or when they combine opioids with other drugs or alcohol.

But one of the biggest risks associated with prescription opioids is their potential for addiction. Opioids can produce a feeling of euphoria or “high,” which can be addictive. Even when taken as prescribed, opioids can lead to physical dependence, which means that the body becomes used to the drug and experiences opioid withdrawal symptoms when it is stopped.

In addition to addiction, prescription opioids can also have other side effects such as drowsiness, nausea, constipation, and respiratory depression. Respiratory depression is a serious side effect that can cause breathing to slow down or stop, which can be life-threatening.

To minimize the risks associated with prescription opioids, it’s important to use them only as directed by a healthcare provider and to follow all instructions for safe use.

If you are concerned about the risks of opioids or have questions about how to use them safely, talk to your healthcare provider.


Opioid Abuse and Addiction: Why Do People Misuse their Prescriptions?

Opioids are powerful drugs that can be highly addictive, especially when they are taken in excess or in ways other than as prescribed. Opioid abuse can lead to physical dependence, withdrawal symptoms, and other negative consequences, such as financial and legal problems. But why do people misuse prescription drugs and put themselves at risk of these dangerous side effects?

Opioid abuse and addiction can be a complex issue with various contributing factors. Let’s take a closer look.

Drug Abuse and Addiction

Some people start out by taking opioids as prescribed and following their doctor’s instructions. But these substances are highly potent. Some people may develop an addiction once they start misusing their prescription or taking larger doses than they are supposed to. In fact, this can happen even if the medication is being used as prescribed.

People who have a history of addiction or who are predisposed to addiction may be more likely to misuse their prescription.

Just like other forms of addiction, opioid addiction is a complex medical condition that is characterized by compulsive drug seeking and use despite harmful consequences. An addicted person will keep on taking opioids even when they are already suffering from its effects.

With addiction, the body becomes tolerant to the effects of a drug, meaning that more of the drug is required to achieve the same effect. Tolerance can lead to people taking larger and more frequent doses of their painkillers, which can increase the risk of overdose.

With repeated use of opioids, the body can even become physically dependent on the drug. Dependence means that the body can no longer function normally without the substance. This also means that if the person stops taking the drug, they will experience withdrawal symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting, and muscle aches.

The fear of withdrawal can lead people to continue using opioids, even if they don’t want to. Drug dependence is normally treated through a process called medical detox.

Lack of Information

There is a misconception that prescription drugs are safer to abuse compared to illicit drugs just because they are given by doctors. Sometimes prescription drug abuse is just caused by a lack of knowledge or information.

Sometimes people do not fully understand how to take their medication properly. They may not understand the dosage or the length of time they should be taking the medication.

Lack of information can contribute to prescription opioid abuse in a number of ways. For example, people may not fully understand the risks associated with prescription opioids. But just because something is given by a doctor does not mean it is completely safe.

This false belief can lead them to take larger doses or use the medication in ways that are not recommended. This significantly increases their risk of addiction and overdose.

In some cases, people may turn to prescription opioids because they are not aware of other options for managing pain. If healthcare providers do not offer information about non-opioid pain management strategies, patients may not know that there are other options available to them.

For a lot of people, limited access to healthcare can make it difficult to get the information they need about prescription opioids. Without regular medical checkups or access to healthcare providers who can provide education and guidance, individuals may be more likely to misuse prescription opioids or become addicted.

The perception that prescription drugs are “safe” to misuse is very dangerous. Lack of information in some communities and social circles about the risks associated with these medications can contribute to this perception.

To address this issue, it is important to increase awareness about the risks associated with prescription opioids, and to provide individuals with information about alternative treatments and resources for managing pain.

Seeking a High

Some prescription medications, including opioids, can cause a sense of euphoria or a high, which can be appealing to some people. This is what leads some people to misuse or abuse their medication.

There is also an element of experimentation. Some people want to try prescription opioids out of curiosity. This is called “seeking a high”. Recreational users may take prescription opioids in ways that are not intended by their healthcare provider. This can include crushing and snorting pills or injecting them. Doing so can increase the risk of opioid overdose as well as other harmful health effects.

The euphoric effects of drugs like hydrocodone, fentanyl, and oxycodone can be appealing to those who are seeking to experience a sense of pleasure or escape from their problems.

Remember that taking prescription opioids in higher doses or using them for non-medical reasons can increase the risk of addiction and overdose.

Seeking a high is often just one of the factors that lead to prescription drug abuse. There are many other factors that come into play, including psychological factors.

Psychological Factors

Addiction can be influenced by underlying psychological factors, such as stress, anxiety, depression, or trauma. People who experience psychological distress such as depression, anxiety, and stress may use prescription opioids to alleviate their symptoms. This can lead to a dependence on the drug, as the person may come to rely on it as a coping mechanism.

Another psychological factor that influences the abuse of prescription drugs is impulsivity. Impulsive individuals may be more likely to abuse prescription opioids as they are less likely to consider the consequences of their actions. This can result in them taking more of the drug than prescribed or taking it more frequently than recommended.

Prescription drug abuse is a complex issue that also has physical and social factors. This is why it is often addressed using a multifaceted approach that includes education, prevention, and treatment.


Speaking of “using prescription opioids to alleviate symptoms”, self-medication is another huge factor that puts a person at risk of substance abuse and addiction.

Self-medication refers to the practice of using medications without the guidance or prescription of a healthcare professional. When it comes to prescription opioid abuse, self-medication can be a significant risk factor.

Some people may use their prescription medication to self-medicate for other conditions or symptoms. People with mental health issues like anxiety or depression are more likely to self-medicate to cope with their symptoms and make it easier to. They may not realize the potential dangers of doing so.

When individuals self-medicate with opioids, they may take larger doses or take them more frequently than recommended, which can lead to dependence and addiction, along with the many adverse health effects that come with it.

Self-medication can prevent a person from seeking appropriate medical care. When individuals attempt to treat their pain or other symptoms on their own, they may avoid seeking medical attention until their condition becomes severe. In some cases, this delay can result in the need for stronger pain management, which may include prescription opioids.

Self-medication can be a dangerous practice that increases the risk of prescription opioid abuse. It is important to always follow the guidance of a healthcare provider and only take medications as prescribed.

Peer Pressure

As we mentioned previously, substance abuse has a social factor. Some people may be influenced by their friends or family members to misuse their medication. They may feel pressure to take more or take it in a different way than prescribed.

Just like with other drugs, individuals may misuse opioids due to peer pressure or to fit in with a certain group of people. Prescription opioid abuse may be seen as socially acceptable or even cool within certain social groups. Young people may feel pressure to fit in and conform to their peers’ behavior, which may include using opioids.

Teens and young adults are particularly vulnerable to this because they are still figuring out their social identity and building relationships.

Peer pressure can come from friends who encourage the use of prescription opioids. For example, friends may suggest using the medication as a way to cope with stress or to have a good time.

Peer pressure can be a powerful influence on young people, and it can lead to the misuse and abuse of prescription opioids. Young people need to be educated about the risks of opioid use so they can stay away from harmful substances.

Easy Access to Prescription Drugs

Prescription opioids are often easy to obtain, and individuals may use them recreationally or for non-medical purposes. Some young people may be able to obtain prescription opioids from friends or family members who have a legitimate prescription for the medication. Peer pressure can make it more likely that individuals will experiment with these drugs.

When people have easy access to prescription opioids, they are more likely to take them for non-medical reasons. Easy access to prescription opioids can also increase the likelihood that these drugs will be diverted to others, such as family members or friends, who may use them for non-medical purposes.

Additionally, when prescription opioids are easily accessible, it can be more difficult for healthcare providers to track their use and ensure that patients are using them safely and appropriately. This lack of oversight can increase the risk of misuse, abuse, and addiction.

Just because opioids are easily accessible, some people may underestimate their risks. This creates a false sense of safety around their use.

This is why it is essential to have effective policies and practices in place to ensure that prescription opioids are only used when medically necessary and that their use is closely monitored and regulated.

How to Prevent Prescription Drug Misuse

Now that we have explored some of the most common reasons for abusing prescription drugs such as opioids, let’s talk about some of the ways you can prevent this from happening. Whether it’s for yourself or for someone you care about, here are some effective strategies you can use to prevent or minimize the risk of prescription drug misuse:

Properly using prescription drugs: Always take prescription drugs as prescribed by a healthcare provider. Do not take more or less than prescribed, and do not share your medication with others.

Secure storage: Keep your prescription medications in a safe and secure location, out of the reach of children, pets, and others who might misuse them.

Proper disposal: Dispose of unused medications properly, by following instructions on the medication label or consulting with a pharmacist or healthcare provider.

Education and awareness: Educate yourself and others about the risks associated with prescription drug abuse, and the signs and symptoms of addiction.

Monitoring: Monitor your own use of prescription drugs, and seek help if you feel like you may be developing an addiction. If you are a healthcare provider, monitor your patients for signs of abuse or addiction.

Alternative treatments: Consider alternative treatments for pain management or other conditions, such as physical therapy or counseling.

Treatment for addiction: Seek treatment if you or someone you know is struggling with prescription drug addiction. Treatment options include therapy, medication-assisted treatment, and support groups.

Opioid Addiction Treatment: What to Expect

Opioid addiction is a serious health condition that requires professional treatment. There are several types of treatment available, and the choice of treatment depends on the individual’s needs and preferences.

It all starts with the intake process. Before starting the treatment, a healthcare professional will assess your addiction and overall health. This assessment includes your physical and mental health, substance use history, and other factors that may affect your treatment.

The intake process will allow them to create a proper treatment plan that is personalized based on the patient’s specific needs and condition. Everyone is different, and that is why a personalized approach is always recommended when it comes to addiction medicine.

After that, the real journey begins. Opioid addiction treatment often starts with detoxification or  medical detox. Detoxification is the process of gradually removing the opioid drug from your body. This process can be uncomfortable and may cause withdrawal symptoms. Medical supervision during detox is essential to ensure your safety and comfort.

Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) is a type of treatment that uses medication to help manage opioid addiction. MAT medications, such as methadone, buprenorphine, and naltrexone, can reduce withdrawal symptoms and cravings. MAT can be an effective treatment for opioid addiction when used in combination with counseling and other support services.

Speaking of which, counseling and therapy are crucial components of opioid addiction treatment. They can help patients address the underlying causes of their addiction. They can also recognize triggers, develop healthy coping skills, and prevent relapse. Counseling and therapy can be done individually, in a group, or with family members.

After the rehab process, it’s all about maintaining long term sobriety and preventing relapse. Support groups, such as Narcotics Anonymous (NA) or SMART Recovery, can provide a supportive environment for individuals in recovery from opioid addiction. These groups can provide peer support, encouragement, and guidance.

Opioid addiction treatment does not end with the completion of a program. Aftercare is essential to maintaining recovery and preventing relapse. Aftercare services may include ongoing counseling, support groups, and access to community resources.

Opioid addiction treatment can be a long-term process that requires dedication and commitment. However, with the right treatment, support, and resources, recovery from opioid addiction is possible. Look for an addiction treatment center near you today and get started on the road to long-lasting sobriety.

Rehab is Your Best Chance

Treatment is an addicted individualʼs best option if they want to recover. Beating an addiction not only requires eliminating the physical dependence, but also addressing the behavioral factors that prevent them from wanting to get better. Simply quitting may not change the psychological aspect of addiction. Some people quit for a while, and then take drugs or alcohol again, only to overdose because they did not detox properly. Recovery involves changing the way the patient feels, thinks, and behaves.


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Fel Clinical Director of Content
Felisa Laboro has been working with addiction and substance abuse businesses since early 2014. She has authored and published over 1,000 articles in the space. As a result of her work, over 1,500 people have been able to find treatment. She is passionate about helping people break free from alcohol or drug addiction and living a healthy life.

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