Commonly asked questions about opioid addiction


Opioids are some of the most commonly used substances in the United States. With national media attention on prescription painkiller, heroin and other natural and synthetic substances, it’s important to understand how these drugs impact people and popular health. To learn more about opioids, select one of the sub-tabs below.

Learn about opioid and substance abuse

Opioids are a group of natural, partially synthetic, or synthetic drugs derived from the poppy plant or chemically synthesized in laboratory settings. This class of drugs includes both legal and illegal drugs. Legally prescribed opioids include morphine, codeine, and oxycodone. Illegal opioids include heroin.

Opioids are used to help individuals cope with pain. They bind to natural opioid receptors in the brain, mimicking specific chemicals that are related to sensations of pain relief, pleasure, and reward. When used as prescribed, legal opioids are one of the most effective forms of pain relief, especially when the pain is severe or other attempts to relieve the pain have proven unsuccessful. However, since opioids have both pain relieving properties and positive psychological properties, they are among the most abused types of substances currently available.

When opioids are abused or when illegal opioids, which have a significantly higher potency, are taken usually, the route of administration is altered. Often pills are ground and the powdered form is snorted, smoked, or mixed with water and injected. These methods of using the substance increase the speed of absorption, leading to a “rush,” a fast acting strong effect of positive sensations. Even when taken as prescribed however, the potential for abuse and addiction is high and treatment may be required. Repeated use can lead to physical dependence within 4-6 weeks, however psychological addiction can result in as little as two days. opioids in particular, due to the pleasant effects that can counteract their negative mood. The resulting surge of euphoria can lead quickly to addiction.  


Signs and symptoms of opioid addiction

Mood/Psychological symptoms:

  • Increased general anxiety
  • Anxiety attacks
  • Euphoria
  • Psychosis
  • Improved self-esteem
  • Depression
  • Irritability
  • Lowered motivation

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Opioids are used for longer or at a greater amount than intended
  • Unsuccessful attempts to decrease the amount taken
  • Large amount of time spent obtaining, using, or recovering from the drug
  • Abandonment of important activities

Physical symptoms:

  • Improved alertness
  • Increased sensitivity to sensory stimuli
  • Constricted blood vessels
  • Increased heart rate
  • High blood pressure
  • Increased energy
  • Decreased appetite
  • Increased sexual arousal
  • Physical agitation
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Over arousal and hyper-vigilance

Effects of opioid addiction

Some of the side effects of opioid use include:

  • Fatigue
  • Constipation
  • Breathlessness
  • A sense of elation
  • Bronchospasm
  • Physical and psychological dependence
  • Nausea
  • Confusion
  • Depressed respiration and difficulty breathing
  • Death (often due to use of more than one substance)
  • Chest pain

Withdrawal symptoms of opioid addiction

Some of the common withdrawal effects associated with stopping the use of opioids include:

  • Physical and psychological cravings
  • Nausea
  • Stomach pain
  • Cold sweat
  • Chills
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Agitation
  • Anxiety
  • Muscle tension
  • Shaking or quivering
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Enlarged pupils
  • Pain in the bones

Will I be able to function safely in my everyday life?

Yes, the medication is highly monitored by our medical staff to ensure that you are receiving a safe dosage. When used under medical supervision as a part of a treatment program, methadone and buprenorphine can safely be taken without any damaging side effects. In addition, at the correct dose, there is no impairment to mental function or your ability to perform daily activities.

How long will I be in treatment?

The duration of a medication-assisted treatment program is different for each patient. Some patients discharge more quickly, while others find success with longer term treatment. Research has shown that patients who stay for a year or more experience greater successes in long-term recovery than those who stay in treatment for less than a year. Should you choose to leave treatment, our staff will develop a discharge plan to help you be successful outside of the clinic.

How often do I have to come in for treatment?

TLC provides treatment in an outpatient setting. Patients must come in for treatment every day at the beginning of their program to become stabilized on a medication dose and decrease the risk of relapse. Take home medication may be earned as the patient follows the policies and procedures of the program, and meets other regulatory criteria such as time in treatment and favorable drug screens. Patients must also attend counseling sessions on an appointment-based schedule.

Is counseling required?

Counseling is required while receiving treatment and is an integral part of any comprehensive treatment plan and a state regulatory requirement for those seeking medication-assisted treatment. Our professional counseling staff works to help patients overcome the underlying causes of addiction while learning new tools and coping mechanisms necessary for long-term recovery. Counseling is individualized based on patient needs and various state regulations/requirements.

Could I become addicted to the medications used in treatment?

Methadone and buprenorphine affect the same areas of the brain as other opioids, but if used as prescribed, the risk of misuse or addiction is greatly reduced.

Will this type of treatment interact with my other medications?

Methadone and buprenorphine are known to interact with some medications, so you should always speak with your doctor or counselor about any medications you are currently taking. For list of possible interactions visit: https://www.drugs.com/drug_interactions.php
Note: It is extremely dangerous to take benzodiazepines while in a medication-assisted treatment program with either methadone or buprenorphine. In combination, they have a high risk of causing sedation and respiratory depression which can lead to respiratory failure, overdose and death. Please communicate with your treatment provider and physician about the best way to manage your medications in a safe and effective way

I am pregnant. Can I still come in for treatment?

Opioid addiction and co-occurring disorders

There are a number of disorders that co-occur with opioids addiction. The most commonly co-occurring disorder with any substance abuse disorder is another substance abuse disorder. Disorders that are co-morbid to opioid addiction include:

  • Tobacco use
  • Alcohol abuse
  • Cannabis abuse
  • Stimulant abuse
  • Benzodiazepine abuse
  • Depression
  • Dysthymia
  • Anxiety
  • Insomnia
  • Antisocial Personality Disorder
  • Post-traumatic Stress Disorder
  • History of conduct disorder in childhood or adolescence

Causes and risk factors of opioid addiction

There is no direct evidence supporting an individual cause to explain any specific substance abuse disorder. However, research has supported links between certain factors and the subsequent development of substance related problems.

Genetic Factors– Family studies have shown that when an individual has a first degree relative with an opioid addiction they are more likely to develop the disorder than those who don’t have a similar family history.

Indirect Genetic Influences – It appears that some potential causes may function through genetic influences. For example, temperamental qualities, such as novelty seeking and impulsivity, believed to be inborn, have been linked to an increased risk for opioid addiction. Additionally, our nature influences what types of people we choose to be around. Thus, while peers can influence our choices as far as beginning and continuing to use a substance, we decide which peer groups to which we want to belong. Factors such as these are thought to result from an interaction between heredity and environment.

Coping Factors – For individuals who have difficulty tolerating negative mood states, due to the failure to learn effective coping mechanisms in childhood and adolescence, when distressed the search for relief may lead to substance use of opioids in particular, due to the pleasant effects that can counteract their negative mood. The resulting surge of euphoria can lead quickly to addiction.

Pleasure Experienced in the Brain – Everyone enjoys the experience of pleasure. It is important enough to our well-being that there is a pleasure and reward center located in our brains and specific chemicals responsible for neural communication are strongly related to our ability to experience pleasure, happiness, joy, and excitement. When we take opioids, the resulting sudden rush of pleasure we experience is stronger than what we may normally experience on a daily basis.