Defining the Disorder
Addiction is a treatable medical disorder. Addiction occurs when someone’s frequent and/or continued use of drugs or alcohol over a long period of time creates serious negative changes in their life, and they continue using despite health problems, disability, and failure to meet major responsibilities at work, school, or home.
You may also see another name for addiction—substance use disorder (SUD). “Substance use disorder” is the correct medical term for what is commonly called “addiction”, and “opioid use disorder” (OUD) for what we would commonly call “opioid addiction”.
What Are Opioids?
Opioids are natural or synthetic chemicals that interact with the body and brain to reduce feelings of pain. Some examples of opioids are: heroin, fentanyl, and legal prescription pain medications, such as oxycodone, hydrocodone, codeine, morphine, and many others.
Prescription 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. However, opioids also cause the brain to produce dopamine, a chemical that makes us feel good or happy, causing some people to misuse prescription opioids. In fact, someone can become dependent on opioids within seven days of use.
Why Can’t Someone Just
Stop Using Opioids?
When someone takes opioids for a long time, the brain gets used to the opioids and ends up needing the opioids to work. If a person who is dependent on opioids, or has an opioid use disorder, were to suddenly stop taking opioids, they would likely experience withdrawal. Withdrawal is the body and brain’s reaction to the sudden stop in opioid use and it can cause an incredible amount of pain, vomiting, diarrhea, hot and cold flashes, anxiety, depression, and these symptoms could last for weeks. Dying from withdrawal is uncommon, but the experience makes it feel impossible to stop using opioids. If you or someone you know has an opioid use disorder, there are medications that can help to reduce opioid cravings and withdrawal. Get help here.
Recovery from addiction is in reach for anyone. You can find help and treatment resources here or learn how to be a support system for someone struggling with addiction here.
- Strong desire to use drugs
- Inability to control or reduce use
- Continued use despite health problems, disability, and failure to meet major responsibilities at work, school or home.
- Use of larger amounts over time
- Secretive behavior/disappearing for hours without explanation
- Nodding off/drowsiness
- Pinpoint pupils (specific to opioid use)
- Slurred speech
- Weak memory and attention
- Developing the need to use more to not get sick and/or go into withdrawal
- Spending a lot of time to get and use drugs
- High levels of spending and/or frequent need for money
- Withdrawal symptoms that occur after stopping or reducing opioid use, such as:
- Negative mood/mood swings
- Nausea or vomiting
- Muscle aches