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Opiate addiction and you

Mina Draskovic, B.Psy., reviewed this content for accuracy on May 14, 2024

Opiate addiction poses a significant public health challenge, affecting millions globally. In the United States, the most commonly abused opiates are morphine and codeine

According to the International Narcotics Control Board, the U.S. was the greatest consumer of morphine in 2020, using 13.1 tons of this opiate in managing pain and palliative care. 

Table of Contents

Opiate addiction can have devastating consequences on a person’s physical and mental health, leading to chronic health issues and an increased risk of infectious diseases and fatal overdose.

If you’re struggling with opiate addiction, there is hope. The compassionate team at our opiate addiction treatment center addresses the underlying causes of addiction, empowering you with the tools you need to rebuild your life. 

What are opiates?

Opiates are a class of drugs derived from the opium poppy plant (Papaver somniferum). The plant produces a milky sap called latex, which contains several active compounds known as alkaloids. To obtain natural opiates, the latex is collected from the seed pods of the opium poppy, allowing the sap to ooze out and dry on the outer surface. The dried latex, called raw opium, is then scraped off and further processed to isolate the desired alkaloids.

Types of opiate drugs

Some natural opiates are directly extracted from the opium poppy. Others are more commonly synthesized from other naturally occurring opiates. Despite differences in their production methods, all of these compounds are still considered natural opiates due to their origin and chemical structure.

Here is a list of most commonly used opiates:

  1. Morphine: the primary active compound in opium is a potent analgesic used to treat severe pain, such as post-surgical pain or pain associated with terminal illnesses like cancer.
  2. Codeine: a naturally occurring opiate found in the opium poppy in lower concentrations than morphine. It is often used to treat mild to moderate pain and is often found in some cough suppressant formulations.
  3. Thebaine: this opiate is not used directly for its medicinal properties. Instead, it serves as a precursor for the synthesis of semi-synthetic opioids such as oxycodone and buprenorphine.
  4. Hydrocodone: a semi-synthetic opioid derived from codeine or thebaine, used to treat moderate to severe pain, often in combination with other medications like acetaminophen.
  5. Oxycodone: a semi-synthetic opioid derived from thebaine, prescribed for moderate to severe pain relief.
  6. Hydromorphone: a potent semi-synthetic opioid derived from morphine, used to treat severe pain in opioid-tolerant patients.
  7. Oxymorphone: a semi-synthetic opioid derived from thebaine or morphine, used to treat moderate to severe pain, particularly in opioid-tolerant individuals.
  8. Oripavine: an opiate alkaloid used as a starting material for the production of semi-synthetic opioids such as buprenorphine and etorphine.
  9. Papaverine: acts as a smooth muscle relaxant and is used to treat conditions such as erectile dysfunction and gastrointestinal disorders.
  10. Noscapine (also known as Narcotine): has antitussive (cough-suppressing) properties and is being investigated for its potential anti-cancer effects.
  11. Laudanine: a minor alkaloid found in opium with no significant medical uses.
  12. Laudanidine: another minor alkaloid found in opium with limited therapeutic potential.

What are opiates used for?

Opiates have been used for their medicinal properties for thousands of years. In ancient civilizations, opium was used to treat a wide range of ailments, including pain, diarrhea, and cough. In the early 19th century, morphine was isolated from opium and became widely used as a pain reliever.

Opiates are primarily used for their analgesic properties, but they also have other medical applications such as:

  1. Cough suppression. Codeine is sometimes prescribed to manage severe or chronic cough that does not respond to other treatments. This opiate works by suppressing the cough reflex in the brain, reducing the frequency and intensity of coughing. Prescription cough medications containing opiates are usually reserved for short-term use under medical supervision.
  2. Diarrhea treatment. Opiates such as diphenoxylate and loperamide are effective in controlling acute and chronic diarrhea. They work by slowing down intestinal motility, which allows more time for water and electrolytes to be absorbed from the intestines, leading to firmer stools and reduced frequency of bowel movements. These opiates are available by prescription or over the counter.
  3. Dyspnea (shortness of breath) management. Low doses of opiates may be prescribed to alleviate dyspnea in patients with advanced lung diseases. Opiates help reduce the perception of breathlessness and can improve a patient’s quality of life, but their use for dyspnea management requires careful monitoring, as opiates can also depress respiratory function.
  4. Analgesia in labor. Opiates, such as morphine, may be used to manage pain during labor and delivery. Morphine can be administered intravenously or intramuscularly to allow the mother to cope better with contractions. The use of opiates during labor is limited and carefully monitored, as they can cross the placenta and may cause side effects in the newborn. 
  5. Palliative and end-of-life care. Opiates are often prescribed to manage pain and improve the quality of life for patients with terminal illnesses, such as advanced cancer. Opiates are effective in controlling severe pain, providing comfort, and alleviating suffering. They can be administered orally, transdermally (through a patch), or intravenously. 

Despite their medical benefits, natural opiates carry a high risk of addiction and abuse. The euphoric effects and the development of tolerance can lead many to misuse them. 

In the United States, opiates are classified as Schedule II drugs under the Controlled Substances Act, which means they have a high potential for abuse but also have accepted medical uses. The use, distribution, and manufacture of opiates are strictly regulated by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to prevent misuse and abuse while ensuring their availability for legitimate medical purposes.

How do opiates work?

Opiates work by binding to specific receptors in the brain in regions involved in pain perception, reward, and emotion regulation. These are called opioid receptors. When these receptors are activated, they trigger a cascade of chemical events that ultimately lead to a reduction in pain signaling and an increase in feelings of pleasure and relaxation.

Opiates flood the user’s brain with dopamine. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter associated with pleasure, reward, and motivation. The release of dopamine in the nucleus accumbens (a key region in the brain’s reward system) produces feelings of pleasure, while other brain regions create lasting memories that associate these positive sensations with the surrounding environment. 

…these memories, called conditioned associations, often lead to the craving for drugs when the abuser reen-counters those persons, places, or things, and they drive abusers to seek out more drugs in spite of many obstacles. (Kosten and George)

With continued use, your brain adapts by reducing its natural production of dopamine and other neurotransmitters. This requires higher doses of the drug to feel the same effects as before, so you develop tolerance. Over time, your brain becomes dependent on opiates to function normally. If you try to stop using, your brain struggles to cope without the drug, so you may experience withdrawal symptoms. The intense cravings make it difficult to quit even when you want to.

With proper treatment, support, and time, you can overcome your psychological and physical dependence and restore normal brain function. Ardu’s drug rehab program can help you break free from the grip of opiate addiction. We provide the support, guidance, and evidence-based treatments you need to heal your brain and rebuild your life.

Opiates vs opioids

Opiates belong to the broader group of drugs called opioids which includes both natural opiates and synthetic and semi-synthetic substances. The two terms are often used interchangeably, so it’s easy to confuse them. 

Let’s break down the differences between opioids and opiates.

  • Opiates have a specific chemical structure that is naturally found in the opium poppy plant.
  • Opioids can have different chemical structures, as they include both natural opiates and synthetic or semi-synthetic compounds designed to mimic the effects of opiates.
  • If the drug is a naturally occurring substance derived directly from the opium poppy plant, it is an opiate.
  • If the drug is a synthetic or semi-synthetic substance that acts on opioid receptors but is not found naturally in the opium poppy plant, it is an opioid.
  • If the drug is a semi-synthetic substance derived from a naturally occurring opiate but chemically modified, it is both an opiate and an opioid.

To put it simply, all opiates are opioids, but not all opioids are opiates.

How to recognize an opiate addiction in someone

Many people struggling with opiate addiction exhibit clear signs and behaviors that can serve as red flags. Some of the most common signs of opiate addiction include:

  1. Tolerance: you require higher doses to achieve the desired effect
  2. Withdrawal symptoms such as nausea, sweating, anxiety, and muscle aches when the drug wears off
  3. Drug-seeking behavior, such as “doctor shopping” for multiple prescriptions or illegally buying opiates
  4. Mood swings, irritability, and changes in behavior or personality
  5. Neglect of responsibilities at work, school, or home
  6. Financial difficulties or engagement in illegal activities to obtain opiates
  7. Loss of interest in hobbies, social activities, and personal hygiene
  8. Physical signs such as constricted pupils, slurred speech, and sedation
  9. Relationship problems or social isolation
  10. Continued use of opiates despite negative consequences and a desire to quit

If you notice these signs in someone you care about, urge them to seek professional help as soon as possible. Our addiction specialists, rehabilitation programs, and counseling services will help them break free from the grip of opiate addiction.

Contact Ardu today.

What are the causes of opiate addiction?

Many factors can contribute to the development of opiate addiction. These risk factors span genetic, environmental, and psychological domains, making some people more susceptible to opiate misuse and dependence.

Risk factors for opiate addiction include:

  1. Genetic predisposition. Research indicates that genetic factors account for approximately 50% of the risk for opiate addiction. Those with a family history of substance abuse or addiction may be more likely to develop an opiate use disorder.
  2. Chronic pain management. People suffering from chronic pain conditions are often prescribed opiates for long-term pain relief. Prolonged use of opiates can lead to tolerance, physical dependence, and, in some cases, addiction.
  3. Co-occurring mental health disorders: People with deteriorated mental health may turn to opiates as a means of self-medication or coping mechanism, increasing the risk of developing an addiction.
  4. Early exposure to drugs. People who begin using opiates or other drugs at a young age are more likely to develop an addiction later in life. A 2010 study revealed that the adolescent brain is particularly vulnerable to the effects of drugs and that drugs such as opiates can interfere with healthy brain development.
  5. Social and economic factors. Poverty, unemployment, and lack of education contribute to a higher risk of opiate addiction. People who live in communities with limited access to resources and support may be more likely to turn to drugs as a way to cope with stress and hardship.
  6. Peer pressure and social norms. When you’re surrounded by others who misuse opiates or other substances, the likelihood of experimentation with drugs increases. Social norms that glamorize or normalize drug use can also contribute to an increased risk of addiction.
  7. Lack of awareness about opiate drugs. Many may not fully understand the addictive potential of opiates, particularly when prescribed by a doctor for pain relief. This lack of knowledge can lead to unintentional misuse and addiction.

Opiate addiction is a complex condition, and no single risk factor determines whether a person will develop an addiction. At Ardu, we recognize the unique challenges associated with opiate addiction and offer comprehensive treatment programs tailored to your specific needs. 

Our drug and alcohol rehab center can help you overcome any type of substance use disorder (SUD) and build a foundation for lasting recovery.

How dangerous is addiction to opiates?

Opiate addiction can be dangerous and potentially life-threatening. Overdose is one of the most severe risks associated with opiate addiction. People overdose on opiates when they consume an excessive amount, leaving the body unable to cope with the effects of the drug. Opiates and other types of opioids depress the respiratory system and may lead to breathing difficulties, loss of consciousness, and respiratory failure.

Signs of an opiate overdose may include:

  • Slow, shallow breathing or periods of not breathing (respiratory depression)
  • Bluish tint to the lips and fingernails (cyanosis)
  • Cold, clammy skin
  • Extreme drowsiness or loss of consciousness
  • Pinpoint pupils
  • Choking or gurgling sounds
  • Slow heartbeat
  • Nausea and vomiting

If you think someone is suffering an overdose, immediately call emergency services.

Overdose is just one of the many dangers associated with opiate addiction. Long-term opiate abuse can also lead to chronic health complications and permanently compromise the quality of life.

What consequences can opiate addiction have?

Opiate addiction can destroy a person’s health, relationships, and overall quality of life. Here are some long-term, detrimental consequences of opiate addiction:

  1. Health impacts
    1. Respiratory depression and increased risk of overdose: opiates depress your respiratory system and can dangerously slow down or even stop your breathing. 
    2. Liver and kidney damage: your liver and kidneys filter out the drug metabolites, so long-term opiate abuse can be hard on them. This strains your organs, leading to hepatitis, cirrhosis, and kidney disease or failure.
    3. Increased susceptibility to infectious diseases: many people inject opiates such as morphine. This method—combined with engaging in risky behaviors influenced by drug use such as unprotected sex and sharing needles—makes users much more vulnerable to contracting HIV, hepatitis C, and other infectious diseases.
    4. Severe constipation and gastrointestinal issues: opiates bind to receptors in the bowels, slowing digestion and causing constipation, bowel obstructions, perforations, and other potentially serious GI problems.
  1. Psychological and social consequences
    1. Strained or severed relationships with family and friends: addiction makes you prioritize getting and using drugs over everything else, ruining your closest relationships through lies, neglect, and bad behavior. This type of social isolation can perpetuate addiction.
    2. Engagement in criminal activities to support the addiction: many addicts resort to theft, dealing drugs, or sex work to be able to afford their habit.
    3. Loss of employment and financial instability: between missing work, stealing money, or getting fired for poor performance, opiate addiction usually means losing your job and spiraling into money troubles.
    4. Increased risk of homelessness and poverty: with no income, burned bridges with loved ones, and instability, far too many opiate addicts end up living on the streets.
  1. Legal implications
    1. Arrests and incarceration for drug possession or related offenses: opiate abuse can impair judgment and cause users to make poor decisions and engage in criminal behavior to obtain the drugs. They may also face charges related to acquiring illicit drugs, such as theft, dealing, or prescription fraud. Incarceration rates are high for those with an opiate use disorder.
    2. Loss of child custody or visitation rights: child protective services try to safeguard kids from the chaos and neglect that can accompany parental opiate abuse. Courts may terminate or suspend custody rights and order or restrict supervised visitation if a parent cannot provide a stable, drug-free home environment.  
    3. Difficulty finding employment due to a criminal record: a record with opioid-related offenses makes passing background checks very challenging. Many employers are hesitant to hire those with a drug conviction history, fearing relapse or unreliability. The stigma and gaps in work history from incarceration create additional barriers to finding a job.

These devastating impacts of opiate addiction underscore the importance of seeking professional help and treatment as soon as possible. With the right support and resources, you can overcome your addiction. 

At Ardu, our comprehensive opiate addiction treatment program employs evidence-based therapies such as medication-assisted treatment and behavioral therapies to address the physical and psychological aspects of your dependency. Our experienced counselors provide individual and group therapy, as well as family counseling, to ensure a well-rounded approach to long-term recovery. 

Contact Ardu and take control of your life.

How is opiate addiction treated?

Ardu Recovery Center provides evidence-based treatment for opiate addiction that addresses both the physical and psychological aspects of dependency. Our treatment facility in scenic Provo, Utah offers a tranquil and easily accessible environment where you can focus on your recovery journey.

If you or a loved one is struggling with opiate or other substance addictions, choose Ardu for our compassionate, personalized care and proven treatment approach that promotes lasting sobriety. Our approach includes:

  • Medication-assisted treatment: we use FDA-approved medications such as buprenorphine, methadone, and naltrexone in combination with counseling to reduce powerful cravings and manage withdrawal symptoms. This approach helps patients stay in treatment by controlling cravings and easing the discomfort of withdrawal.
  • Residential treatment: for severe addictions, our inpatient programs provide a secure, trigger-free environment with 24/7 support. Patients live on-site and participate in individual and group therapies, counseling, and holistic activities to establish a strong foundation for sobriety.
  • Behavioral therapies: evidence-based cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) help patients reframe negative thought patterns, build coping mechanisms, and prevent relapse
  • Holistic care: we promote complete healing through holistic treatment services such as yoga, meditation, massage, and nutritional counseling. This whole-person approach cultivates resilience for lifelong recovery.
  • Family involvement: addiction impacts the entire family system. Our multi-family therapy programs educate and counsel loved ones while repairing strained relationships.
  • Aftercare planning: recovery is an ongoing process, so we create personalized plans for continued success after treatment through sober living, alumni support groups, therapy, and more.

We understand the complexities of opiate addiction and we care about each and every one of our clients. We work closely with you to develop an individualized treatment plan to help you overcome dependency and achieve lasting sobriety.

Detoxification, or detox, is the crucial first step in recovering from opiate addiction.

Our opiate addiction detox center

In our opiate detox program, the drug is safely and gradually removed from your body under close medical supervision. This process allows you to withdraw from opiates in a controlled environment, minimizing the potentially severe and dangerous withdrawal symptoms.

Our detox center provides around-the-clock care from experienced medical professionals who understand the challenges of opiate withdrawal. Medication-assisted treatment options can be used to alleviate withdrawal symptoms and cravings, making the detox process more comfortable and increasing your chances of success.

Once you’ve completed the detox phase, you’ll transition to our opiate addiction rehab program. 

Our opiate addiction rehab center

We employ a range of evidence-based therapies and treatments to address the psychological, emotional, and behavioral aspects of your addiction. Ardu’s rehab center offers both inpatient (residential) and outpatient programs, depending on your needs and the severity of your addiction. 

Inpatient treatment provides a structured, supportive environment away from triggers and temptations, allowing you to focus solely on your recovery. Outpatient programs offer more flexibility for those who need to balance treatment with work or family obligations.

Regardless of the program, our approach employs treatments beyond medication-assisted therapy and counseling. We use contingency management to reinforce positive behavioral changes through a reward-based system. 

We also incorporate motivational interviewing, a client-centered counseling approach that helps resolve ambivalence and reinforces the motivation to change addictive behaviors. This empowers patients to voice their own reasons for getting sober.

For those struggling with co-occurring mental health disorders such as depression or anxiety, we provide integrated treatment for these dual diagnoses. We treat both addiction and mental illness simultaneously to prevent relapse and ensure a successful, long-term recovery.

With compassionate experts, personalized treatment plans, and a holistic approach to healing, Ardu provides the highest quality integrated care for long-term opiate addiction recovery. 

Get help with Ardu Recovery Center

Our recovery center welcomes people seeking help to overcome their addiction to opiates, other types of drugs, and alcohol. Our dedicated team of professionals is here to guide and support you in your treatment process, laying the foundation for long-term sobriety and relapse prevention.

To enroll in an Ardu opioid treatment program, contact Ardu Recovery Center online or via phone (801-872-8480). We will work with you to find a recovery path that works for you during the detox process and beyond. 

Read our admissions process page for more information.

Opiate addiction FAQ

What is the definition of an opiate addict?

An opiate addict is someone who suffers from an opiate use disorder, which is a chronic brain disease characterized by compulsive abuse of opiates derived from the opium poppy plant. It involves both physical and psychological dependence on opiates despite harmful consequences to their daily life. Opiate addiction is a serious public health crisis, often starting with prescribed opioid medications for pain relief before progressing to illicit opiates such as heroin.

What is the addiction rate for opiates?

The National Institute on Drug Abuse estimates around 948,000 Americans had a heroin use disorder in 2016, classified as an opiate use disorder. Millions more battle addiction to other opiates and opioids such as morphine and prescription opioid painkillers. The addiction rate has surged due to the over-prescribing of opioids and the availability of cheap heroin and synthetic opioids in many communities.

What is the relapse rate?

For those struggling with opiate addiction, the relapse rate is extremely high. Studies suggest that more than 60% of users relapse within one year after completing treatment for an opiate use disorder. The cravings, severe withdrawal symptoms, and ingrained habits associated with opiate dependence frequently lead them to return to abusing opiates. This points to the importance of comprehensive, long-term aftercare and support services to maintain sobriety and prevent relapse to opiate abuse.

What percentage of addicts get clean? 

There are no definitive rates on opiate addicts achieving long-term sobriety or “getting clean”, as it’s an ongoing battle. Many are able to overcome their opiate use disorder through comprehensive medication-assisted treatment utilizing counseling along with opioid medications such as methadone or buprenorphine to manage cravings and withdrawal.

Which drugs are considered opiates?

Opiates refer specifically to natural alkaloids derived from the opium poppy plant, including morphine, codeine, and opium itself. Heroin is an illicitly produced and distributed opiate drug, but is more often considered an opioid than an opiate. While chemically similar, synthetic or semi-synthetic opioid medications like oxycodone and fentanyl are not true opiates.

What percent of addicts have depression?

According to a 2019 study, around 40% of those with an opiate addiction also struggle with co-occurring depression and other mood or mental disorders. This demonstrates the need for integrated and effective treatment of opiate use disorder and mental illness together, as untreated depression increases the risks of returning to illicit opiate abuse.

What is the strongest natural painkiller? 

While not an opiate, endorphins are the strongest natural painkillers produced in the body. Endorphins bind to the same opiate receptors as morphine or heroin, relieving pain. Exercise can stimulate endorphin release as a non-drug pain management approach.

What defines an opiate vs opioid?

Opiates specifically refer to alkaloids from the opium poppy such as morphine and codeine. Opioids are a broader class including opiates but also synthetic/semi-synthetic drugs that bind to the same receptors. So all opiates fall under opioids, but not all opioids are true opiate drugs derived from opium.


Ortiz, N. R., & Preuss, C. V. (2023, March 24). Controlled Substance Act. StatPearls – NCBI Bookshelf. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK574544/

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