Opioid addiction is a medical disorder that results from the recurrent use of opioids and creates a reliance on the drug that fuels the need to continue using, despite the emotional, physical and social impacts it may have on one’s life. 

You may even see another name for opioid addiction - Opioid Use Disorder (OUD) - in the news, or hear about it from your doctor. Opioid Use Disorder is the correct medical term for what we would commonly call opioid addiction.

What are opioids?


Opioids are natural or synthetic chemicals that interact with opioid receptors on nerve cells in the body and brain, and reduce the intensity of pain signals and feelings of pain. This class of drugs includes the illegal drug heroin, synthetic opioids such as fentanyl, and pain medications available legally by prescription, such as oxycodone, hydrocodone, codeine, morphine, and many others.

Opioid pain medications can be used to treat moderate to severe pain, and are generally safe when taken for a short time and as prescribed by a doctor, but because they produce euphoria in addition to pain relief, they can be misused. In fact, someone can become dependent on opioids within seven days of use. 9“Commonly Used Terms.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. June 2018.


One of the first changes that we see with opioid exposure in people is how the brain physiologically adapts. It regulates its receptors and neurochemicals to adapt to the presence of opioids. If the opioid continues to be present for some period of time, that becomes the new normal for your brain. If the opioid is then suddenly not present, that adaptation is unmasked, and opioid withdrawal begins.

These are physiologic adaptations that aren’t within someone’s conscious control. Patients who may be prescribed opioids should fully understand what they are being prescribed and why. They should ask their doctor:

  • Why do they need this sort of medication?
  • Do any alternatives exist?
  • Is there anything they can take with it that will provide enough pain relief so they don’t have to take higher doses?
  • What is the expected length of their recovery?
  • Are there potential side effects?
  • How long is it safe to take it?
  • What would be considered compulsive use of the medication?
  • Are there any indications in their medical history that make them a higher risk for addiction?
SCOTT | 32 - Louisville, CO
Scott's Story
"A lot of it boiled down to none of us understanding what addiction was."

My mother suffered from chronic pain, and in my mid-teens I started experimenting with her leftover medications. For as long as I can remember, I’ve struggled with social anxiety and depression, never been comfortable in my own skin. Opioids gave me that feeling of being safe. It didn’t take long to cross that barrier from using socially on the weekends to needing it to get out of bed in the morning. This eventually led to in-depth heroin use, and very nearly robbed me of my life. My parents noticed my drug use, but took limited action. A lot of i Read More >>

While the opioid crisis is now well-publicized in the media, the stigmas that surround it can still obscure the scale of the problem. Many feel that they’re insulated from addiction, that it can’t happen to them or someone they know. But the facts state otherwise: opioid addiction, and the stigmas surrounding it, can impact anyone.


Americans suffer with opioid addiction.3


of heroin users reported misusing prescription opioids prior to heroin.4


Americans die every day from opioid overdose, on average.5


of all U.S. opioid overdose deaths involve a prescription opioid.6


deaths related to opioid overdose in 2017, totaling 55% of all drug poisoning deaths in Colorado.7