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Prescription Opioid Abuse & Addiction | Signs, Overdose, & Treatment Options

two bottles of prescription opioids spilled on a table

Prescription opioids are commonly abused substances, such as hydrocodone and codeine, that are normally used for treating moderate or severe pain. 

These opioids can become highly addictive when they’re taken over extended periods of time, potentially leading to an opioid use disorder. Being in a professional treatment program can help you overcome prescription opioid addiction and live a healthier life.

What Are Prescription Opioids?

Prescription opioids are substances derived from opium poppy plants. Opioids can be made from these plants or created synthetically in labs. 

While prescription opioid uses typically involve easing pain, they have other uses as well, such as treating diarrhea, a cough, or withdrawal symptoms.

Here are some other things you should know about prescription opioids:

  • Common types of prescription opioids include hydrocodone, oxycodone, oxymorphone, codeine, fentanyl, and morphine.
  • Prescription opioids work by blocking pain signals that your brain sends to other parts of your body. They also produce a highly relaxed, pleasant state, which can result in addiction if people take too much or use these medications longer than intended.
  • Prescription opioid abuse and addiction is a common and widespread problem in the United States. In fact, over 232,000 Americans died due to prescription opioid overdoses from 1999 through 2018.

Prescription Opioids & Heroin

Prescription opioids can be difficult to obtain regularly for those who have an addiction to these substances, especially in terms of cost. Heroin provides similar effects as prescription opioids and is usually cheaper, which has caused some individuals to switch drugs. 

Roughly 80 percent of individuals who abuse heroin started out by misusing prescription opioids, according to a report from 2011. In more recent years, heroin has become more common as a first-time opioid for those with addiction.

Signs Of Prescription Opioid Addiction

Taking prescription opioids in higher doses or taking these medications longer than intended can result in addiction. 

This kind of addiction has a high-risk of leading to fatal overdose or severe health complications, so it’s important to know the signs:

  • unable to control the use of prescription opioids
  • drowsiness
  • strong cravings
  • sleep changes, such as sleeping more often or not as much as usual
  • lack of personal hygiene
  • financial trouble that usually results from trying to obtain prescription opioids
  • social isolation from loved ones
  • flu-like symptoms that occur frequently
  • weight loss
  • lower libido
  • lack of physical activity or exercise
  • criminal behavior in order to obtain prescription opioids, such as stealing

Prescription Opioid Overdose Signs

Prescription opioids can lead to accidental overdoses, especially for those who misuse these medications frequently or combine them with other central nervous system depressants like alcohol or benzodiazepines. 

Overdoses involving prescription opioids can quickly have fatal results, so it’s crucial to get medical help immediately. Emergency medical personnel often use naloxone to prevent opioid overdoses from becoming fatal, but this needs to be done as soon as possible. 

Some of the signs of opioid overdose include:

  • clammy, pale skin
  • bluish or purple color in the fingernails or lips
  • slowed heartbeat
  • slowed breathing
  • sudden vomiting
  • limp body
  • unconsciousness
  • inability to speak

Prescription Opioid Withdrawal Symptoms & Detox

If you stop using prescription opioids, your body can go through withdrawal. This process can produce several effects ranging from mild to severe. 

Withdrawal symptoms often begin within several hours or a couple of days after you stop using and can continue for several days. 

Early symptoms of prescription opioid withdrawal may include:

  • anxiety
  • muscle soreness
  • runny nose
  • yawning
  • sweating more than usual
  • watery eyes
  • insomnia

Later symptoms of prescription opioid withdrawal can include:

  • diarrhea
  • nausea and vomiting
  • abdominal cramps
  • pupil dilation
  • goosebumps

Withdrawal from prescription opioids can lead to severe health problems that can become life-threatening. 

Detox programs give you a way to remain safe and as comfortable as possible during the detox phase. During detox, you’ll be able to receive timely medical care if needed for more serious symptoms.

Prescription Opioid Addiction Treatment Options

Overcoming prescription opioid addiction can be challenging, since these substances are highly addictive. A higher than usual risk of relapse and a threat of developing severe symptoms make it important to seek professional treatment. 

Rehab programs that offer help for opioid addiction can include:

Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT)

MAT programs include the use of medications, like methadone or buprenorphine, and therapy to help you overcome prescription opioid addiction. 

Medications provide a way for you to safely work on becoming sober without increasing your risk of a relapse. They also help reduce cravings and withdrawal symptoms, which helps your participation in therapy sessions and peer support groups.

Inpatient Treatment

Residential or inpatient rehab programs for prescription opioid addiction offer a lot of support and safety while you recover. These programs have people stay at a secure facility with staff on hand at all times.

Outpatient Treatment

When you have gone through inpatient care or medication-assisted treatment, you might be able to move on to outpatient care. These programs continue to provide behavioral therapy or group therapy, but do not require you to stay at a facility for treatment.

If you suffer from prescription opioid addiction, please contact Ark Behavioral Health today for more details on our rehab programs.

Written by Ark Behavioral Health Editorial Team
This page does not provide medical advice.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) - Opioid Overdose
John Hopkins Medicine - Opioid Addiction
MedlinePlus - Opiate and Opioid Withdrawal
MedlinePlus - Opioid Misuse and Addiction
National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) MedlinePlus - Opiate and Opioid Withdrawal Prescription Opioids
National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) MedlinePlus - Opiate and Opioid Withdrawal Prescription Opioids and Heroin Research Report

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