Drug and Alcohol - Opioid Addiction

Can The Opioid Epidemic Be Stopped? Recognizing Opioid Addiction

EDGE Opioid-Crisis-Stopped

The opioid crisis kills over 100,000 Americans each year. Here’s a guide on the symptoms of opioid addiction and what you can do about it.

Written by

brian-mooreBrian Moore

Content Writer

Reviewed by

jeremy-arztJeremy Arzt

Chief Clinical Officer

Drug and Alcohol

Opioid Addiction

December 6, 2022

Opioids are a wide family of drugs including everything from illicit drugs like heroin to painkillers like codeine, morphine, Oxycontin, and fentanyl. Many of these substances are used to treat mild to severe pain or discomfort. Opioids have high addiction potential as they have a chemical affinity for opioid receptors found on nerve cells throughout the body and the brain.

Opioid painkillers are typically safe when used as directed by a doctor for a brief period. However, they can be abused (taken differently, in larger amounts than prescribed, or without a prescription) because of the euphoria (a rapid state of tremendous exhilaration) they generate in addition to relieving pain. Furthermore, particularly in the United States, there has been a dramatic increase in the prevalence of the psychiatric symptoms of opioid addiction.

It's why opioid drugs are among the most dangerous drugs to abuse.

The National Library of Medicine estimates that 18.7% (7.2 million out of 38.6 million) of Americans with mental health issues are also prescription opioid users. Of the 115 million opioid prescriptions written annually in the United States, 51.4% are written for adults with mental health issues. Opioid use was also substantially higher among persons with mental health issues than among those without. The combination of a substance addiction with a mental health disorder is known as a dual diagnosis.

The numbers are dire enough to cause many of us to ask a question: can the opioid epidemic be stopped?

What Is Opioid Addiction, and How Does It Occur?

Opioid addiction is a chronic disease that can negatively affect one's health, relationships, and finances. Opioids are a group of medications that affect the central nervous system to alleviate pain … and also produce a pleasurable high.

While it is legal for doctors to prescribe opioids to treat severe and chronic pain, there is a significant risk of opioid addiction. Medication abuse can lead to addiction whether or not the user is experiencing discomfort. Opioids such as oxycodone, fentanyl, hydrocodone, codeine, and morphine are among the most often prescribed drugs—rising opioid overdose deaths signal an urgent need for action.

In addition to relieving pain, opioids can stimulate the brain's reward regions, causing a sense of euphoria and well-being, which is thought to be a factor in potential misuse and addiction.

In addition to relieving physical and emotional pain, opioid use can cause:

  • Nausea, vomiting, and dry mouth

  • Vertigo

  • Confusion

  • Depression

  • Indigestion

  • Opioid Use Disorder (OUD): a medical condition characterized by a mild, moderate, or severe reliance on opioids.

  • Low testosterone levels, which can lead to decreased sex drive, energy, and strength

  • Increased sensitivity to pain

  • Physical dependence: experiencing withdrawal symptoms when the medication is discontinued

Opioid Addiction: A Threat to Society

Opioid pain medication is safe and effective if used under doctor’s orders. However, it’s possible to abuse prescription drugs. Drug abuse involves behaviors such as:

  • Taken without a doctor's prescription

  • Taken in larger doses or administered in a manner other than prescribed (e.g., snorted or injected)

  • Used in conjunction with other medications, drugs, or alcohol that can impair breathing

When these medications are abused, the risk of overdose rises because they depress the body's respiratory system to dangerously low levels. The danger of an overdose and mortality from opioids are compounded when combined with other CNS depressants like alcohol, sleeping medications, or benzodiazepines (e.g., Xanax, Klonopin). A person who has built up a tolerance to opioids will eventually need them to function normally. Even if individuals no longer find opioids pleasurable, they are under the impression that they will experience unpleasant withdrawal symptoms if they stop.

Dependence on opioids results in withdrawal symptoms caused by the drug's absence. Opioid withdrawal symptoms can include:

  • Diarrhea

  • Vomiting

  • Exhaustion

  • Body aches and cramps

  • Anxiety

  • Excessive sweating

People say it's like getting the flu but worse. Once someone has stopped taking opioids for an extended time—whether for detox, treatment, incarceration, or any other reason—their tolerance levels will drop significantly. The overdose risk dramatically increases if the individual returns to taking opioids at the previous dosage level. 

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the number of fatal overdoses in the United States using opioids increased from 21,088 in 2010 to 47,600 in 2017 and held steady at 46,802 in 2018. The number of fatal overdoses then skyrocketed to 68,630 by the year 2020.

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How Do Children Become Addicted to Opioids?

Teenagers and young adults become addicted to opioids in one of three ways:

  • Self-medicating to avoid painful emotions or problems

  • A legitimate doctor's prescription

  • Recreationally

Teens may be prescribed opioids to treat certain illnesses and severe pain, such as dental surgery pain or serious sports injuries. The researchers discovered a strong link between teens that used opioids for medical reasons and later used them for nonmedical purposes. Some adolescents and young adults believe that it must be safe if a doctor prescribes an opioid.

However, there are numerous short- and long-term consequences to not taking opioids as prescribed by a doctor, particularly becoming addicted and risking overdose.

Two-thirds of teens who report prescription medication misuse get it from friends, family, and acquaintances, and they frequently take it directly from household medicine cabinets. In addition, some teenagers share prescription medications, giving or selling their pills or those they've obtained or stolen.

All these facts on the effects of opioid addiction and dependence mentioned above can be overwhelming for anyone, especially for a parent or a guardian. Still, preventive measures can be taken to overcome opioid addiction in various ways.

How Can You Assist Someone You Know Is Struggling with Opioid Addiction?

Let them know you care about them, which is why you want to talk to them about the dangers of prescription painkillers, heroin, and other opioids. Then, you can take measures to prevent them from becoming addicted to opioids.

Address Potential Risks

When assessing a person's vulnerability to addiction, certain factors must be considered. However, it's essential to remember that risk factors aren't deterministic; rather, they show how likely someone is to engage in drug use or be prone to addiction.

Consider Their Mental Health

A person is more likely to develop a substance use problem if they suffer from chronic depression, anxiety, or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). It is a good idea to discuss the relationship between psychiatric conditions and substance use with your healthcare providers. Understanding how emotional and behavioral problems can trigger or escalate a substance use problem, as well as managing and treating underlying psychiatric conditions, is critical for reducing risks.

Family History

If there is a history of substance abuse in their family, they are more at risk for developing an opioid addiction. A child's risk of developing an addiction increases if either or both of their parents are addicts, but that risk also increases if an aunt, cousin, grandparents, or relative is an addict or in recovery. Therefore, it is crucial to share with your child the existence of a family history of substance abuse or addiction. 


Substance misuse problems are more likely to emerge among those who have experienced or witnessed traumatic events, such as an automobile accident, a natural disaster, or physical or sexual abuse. Accordingly, it is crucial to acknowledge the potential impact of trauma and seek assistance for opiate addiction.

Risky Behaviors

Substance use is frequently associated with impulse control difficulties and risky behaviors. If this is the case with your child, having conversations about the consequences of his or her actions, reinforcing times when your child demonstrates control or chooses safety over risk, and teaching mindfulness skills are all beneficial. In addition, professional counseling can be beneficial in both individual and group settings.

Talk to Them

Talk about the dangers with your loved one. Having meaningful, ongoing conversations about substance use, particularly opioids, is critical to keeping them healthy and safe.

While it may be tempting to start a conversation when they are rushing off to school or work, it is not ideal. Some families feel that doing things like walking, driving, or doing chores together is a great way to bond and have meaningful talks.

Here are some suggestions for fostering mutual understanding and breaking down communication barriers so that you and your loved one can feel more connected:

  • Choose an appropriate time and location

  • Look for times when both you and your child or loved one are open to talking

  • Make use of active listening

  • Inquire about their thoughts on substance abuse

  • Instead of giving one-word answers, ask open-ended questions like "What do you think motivates kids to take pain pills recreationally?" or "What causes people to overdose?"

  • Telling one's own story, whether about one's struggles with opioid addiction, recovery, or loss of someone due to overdose, can be a powerful teaching tool. Don't be afraid to tell people of all walks of life that they could be next if this virus spreads

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Show Empathy and Support

Understand that adversity is a part of life for everyone, but substance use is never a good idea, no matter how commonplace it may seem. If you care about their well-being, happiness, and good choices, let them know that you are there for them whenever they need you. Feel free to inquire about how they felt while reading or listening to the stories, especially those that dealt with opioids. To give some examples:

  • How familiar are you with them, and do you have any idea how they stack up against other narcotics in addiction?

  • Have you ever been presented with a pill? What did you say in that case? What would you say if that were not the case?

  • Please describe the signs of a drug overdose. If you witnessed someone overdosing, what would you do?

Major Warning Signs of Opioid Addiction

Figuring out if someone you know is using opioids or other drugs can be difficult because some of the signs and symptoms may appear to be typical teen or young-adult behavior or mental health issues.

However, in addition to recognizing actual drug use, there are physical and behavioral signs to look for.

Physical signs to look for include:

  • Tiredness and drowsiness, as well as changes in sleep patterns

  • Pinpoint pupils, dark circles under the eyes

  • Rapid weight loss

  • Poor hygiene or personal appearance

  • Health complaints such as constipation or nausea

Look for the following obvious signs:

  • Missing prescription medications

  • Empty pill bottles

  • Unknown prescriptions filled at the pharmacy

  • Syringes or hypodermic needles

  • Bottle caps and kitchen spoons

  • Cotton balls

  • Cigarette filters

  • Aluminum foil

  • Lighters or candles

  • Straws and other paraphernalia used to prepare opioids for consumption

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How Drug Rehabs Can Help Fight Opioid Abuse

When young adults and teenagers abusing opioid drugs are made aware of the dangers of opioids, they often embrace treatment for the disease to lead healthier lives.

In other cases, it will be more difficult, and you will have to use your influence and possibly leverage to make it happen. You may have heard that your son or daughter must "hit rock bottom" or desire help to get better. But that is not the case.

Our loved ones are frequently interested in receiving assistance, but we may not always know what to listen for. Furthermore, "hitting rock bottom" with opioids can be fatal.

If someone you know expresses even a tiny bit of willingness to engage in opioid addiction recovery or treatment or healthier behaviors, encourage them! Whether it’s through a consultation, attendance at an Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), Narcotics Anonymous (NA), or SMART Recovery meeting, or participation in more intensive treatment programs, it’s all good. Any one of them can be an avenue to receiving treatment. While it is hoped that your loved one will readily agree to treatment, don't be discouraged if he or she says no or wants to think about it. Convincing a loved one to go to rehab is a process.

Get Treatment Today for Opioid Abuse at The Edge Treatment Center

 The Edge Treatment Center is the nation's leading drug addiction treatment provider. Based in Orange County, California, the facility offers more flexibility in its treatment plans to ensure that each individual receives personalized service that can lead to better and faster results leading to an everyday life with opportunities. Our treatment options include assistance for people whose addiction is closely linked to substance abuse, with a combination of professional therapies and personal supervision at every stage of recovery.

Don’t risk an opioid overdose. Contact The Edge Treatment Center today!

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If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction, there is hope. Our team can guide you on your journey to recovery. Call us today.