Sections:  Finding Treatment | A National Problem | Opioids vs Opiates | Opioid Effects | Path to Addiction | Risks

Opioids are a class of highly addictive drugs that relieve pain by binding to special opioid receptors in the brain. They include illegal drugs, such as heroin, and prescription painkillers, such as oxycodone and hydrocodone.

Although opioids have a legitimate use, they nonetheless pose a very real danger to users. People who take opioids put themselves at risk of dependence, addiction, and a possible overdose. In addition to sudden death, repeated use over long periods of time can damage the body in profound ways, giving rise to chronic, sometimes life-threatening conditions.

Fortunately, addiction treatment has kept pace with the rising opioid use. Opioid addiction treatment centers like Yellowstone Recovery continue to provide first-class care and support to those who have been blindsided by the unprecedented opioid epidemic and its devastating effects.


Every day, 91 people die from an opioid overdose, and that number keeps climbing. Between 2010 and 2016, the number of people diagnosed with opioid addiction rose by 493 percent.1

Experts attribute the alarming jump in addiction numbers at least partially to the increase in opioid prescriptions. After convincing healthcare providers across the country that their painkillers would not cause widespread addiction, pharmaceutical companies flooded the market with their products.

The result? An epidemic. More doctors prescribed opioids for chronic pain in addition to acute pain, and more patients became hooked. Alongside the rise in prescriptions, illegal use has exploded as well. As the supply of drugs has increased, so too has the demand for their pain-numbing, euphoric effects.


People often use the terms opioids and opiates interchangeably, and few seem to agree on a firm definition. That being said, opiates tend to include any drug that is naturally derived from the poppy plant, such as heroin.

Opioids, on the other hand, describe a class of synthetic and semi-synthetic drugs which have been modified from their original opiate form. In other words, opioids cover a wide range of prescription medications that were created for the purposes of pain relief. These days, people use the term opioids to describe both natural and synthetic products derived from the poppy plant.


Among opioids, some are considered more addictive due to their potency, rapid onset of action, and the euphoria they produce. The most addictive opioids include:

  • Heroin
  • Fentanyl
  • Oxycodone
  • Hydrocodone
  • Methadone

However, it’s essential to understand that all opioids carry a risk of addiction and overdose, particularly with prolonged use. Anyone who takes opioids is at risk of developing a substance use disorder.


Opioids “fool” the brain into ignoring pain. By binding to opioid receptor proteins in the brain and throughout the central nervous system, they block pain signals from reaching their destination.

Yet they do something else. They create a powerful feeling of relaxed euphoria—a desirable sensation that can give rise to addictive behavior. The reason? Opioids flood the brain with dopamine, a neurotransmitter that governs feelings of pleasure and motivation—the body’s own natural reward system.

On the other hand, opioids can cause a number of unwanted side effects and troubling long-term health implications, such as:

Unwanted Side Effects

Serious Side Effects

  • Confusion
  • Drowsiness
  • Nausea
  • Constipation
  • Abdominal bloating
  • Respiratory depression
  • Liver damage
  • Chronic constipation
  • Brain damage
  • Respiratory failure
  • Overdose

Many people, however, are willing to endure the negative side effects in order to enjoy the pleasant, pain-numbing feelings inspired by the opioids. Others use painkillers responsibly but are caught by surprise at the rapidity with which dependence develops.

How does it happen? How does someone go from occasional use to full-blown addiction, and what can be done about it?


Opioid Addict With Bruised Arms

Anyone who uses opioids risks addiction. Whether they obtain a prescription through a doctor for a legitimate medical complaint, steal drugs from the family medicine cabinet, or buy pills from a dealer on a street corner, opioid use often leads to the same destination—addiction.

That’s because opioids are both physically and emotionally addicting. From day one, they begin to change the chemical composition of the brain. When they release dopamine, they activate the body’s natural reward system and turn it against itself. Just as you get dopamine-fueled pleasure from eating, drinking, or having sex, so can you get the same type of pleasant sensations from taking opioid painkillers.

The difference is that eating and drinking and having sex are survival activities. Long-term opioid use is not. Another difference is that your body is a well-tuned machine—it has mechanisms for controlling the amount of dopamine released into your brain. When you flood the brain with artificial chemicals, you throw off the body’s natural balance.

Over time, your body can no longer produce its own opioid receptors. That lowers its ability to dull pain on its own, making it even more reliant on an outside source of pain relief. Eventually, it will have trouble producing the same levels of dopamine, which can lead to “empty,” depleted feelings. Over the long run, it can even give rise to depression.


In short, the more people use opioids, the more their bodies become dependent on them, and the harder it is to quit. Unfortunately, many people underestimate the addictive potential of opioids. They believe they can take pills regularly for short periods of time and then put them aside without suffering any adverse consequences.

In some cases, that’s true—short-term, medically legitimate use of opioids can do more good than harm, numbing pain without producing adverse consequences—but that’s not always the case, and it’s best not to underestimate the potential for addiction. For some, it can take less than a few days to become dependent on opioids.

It’s not just those who use recreationally who suffer from opioid use disorder. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, about 21 to 29 percent of people who get an opioid prescription end up misusing them. Unfortunately, only one of out every ten people who need opioid addiction treatment seek help.1

The bottom line is that drug addiction can strike anyone at any time, and it’s important to educate people about the dangers, as well as the solutions, which may include immediate medical treatment and long-term counseling. Seeking help at an opioid addiction treatment center can set an addict on the road to recovery.


Drug addiction is a serious disease. It can destroy lives and even entire communities. Once it has someone in its grip, it can destroy their self-determinism and undermine their willpower. Yet there is hope. With a strong support network and the right treatment program, almost anyone who is struggling with opioids can break the cycle of dependency and regain control over their lives.

Do you need help to overcome an addiction to opioids? Is a loved one struggling with painkiller use? At Yellowstone Recovery’s opioid addiction rehab facilities, we provide a safe, sober living environment in which individuals can recover from the devastating effects of opioid abuse.

Our opioid addiction treatment center offers supervised opioid detox, which helps residents manage withdrawal symptoms, as well as a comprehensive residential treatment program. Start your sober life today. Contact us to learn more about our affordable opioid treatment programs in Southern California.


  1. https://www.cnn.com/2017/06/29/health/opioid-addiction-rates-increase-500/index.html
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