Opioid addiction is the uncontrolled, compulsive use of opioids brought about by cravings for the drug.

Overview and Facts

What are Opioids?

Opioids (also called opiates) are a class of pain relievers. The earliest versions derive from the opium plant (poppy) and include heroin and morphine. Synthetic (man-made) substitutes include the drugs oxycodone (found in brand names like percocet and oxycontin), fentanyl, hydrocodone (brand name vicodin), codeine, and methadone.

Opioid Addiction vs. Opioid Dependence

Opioid dependence means the body needs opioids to avoid symptoms of withdrawal. Opioid dependence can occur without addiction, such as when a person takes opioid medication for pain management. Physical dependence on opioids is often successfully resolved with the help of a qualified physician.

Opioid addiction involves the uncontrollable cravings and compulsive use of opioids in spite of the harm such behavior may be causing to oneself or others. Opioid addiction can lead to destructive actions and criminal activity such as stealing and/or dealing drugs.

How do Opioids Affect Your Body?

Use of opioids for pain relief or other reasons can lead to physical dependence and addiction. Opioids use can cause:

  • constipation
  • sedation
  • fatigue
  • anxiety
  • itching
  • stomach upset
  • allergic reactions
  • dry mouth
  • small pupils
  • confusion
  • irritability.

Misuse, abuse, and overdose of opiates can lead to respiratory arrest and death. It can also cause clammy skin, breathing problems, stupor (or coma), a dangerous drop in circulation, and cardiac arrest (heart attack).

Opioid Withdrawal

If you stop taking opioids you may get sick. This depends upon how much and how long you have been using.

Opioid withdrawal can include pain, diarrhea, restlessness, sweating, muscle spasms, trouble sleeping, flu-like symptoms, large pupils, anxiety and irritability. Under the care of a qualified physician, however, the symptoms and potential complications of opioid withdrawal can be reduced.

How is Opioid Addiction Treated?

Initial withdrawal symptoms are best treated in a safe, supportive environment (a hospital or other medical facility) under the care of a qualified physician. Medications (buprenorphine, for example) may be prescribed to help ease any discomfort, and possibly help shorten the length of detox.

Following detox, ongoing treatment for opiate addiction often includes a combination of medication and involvement in support or self-help programs. Outpatient counseling, intensive outpatient counseling, and partial hospitalization (day programs) are also important treatment options, especially in early recovery.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Due to multiple considerations related to the COVID-19 pandemic, all inpatient admissions to the Brattleboro Retreat must FIRST meet criteria for inpatient psychiatric level of care as determined by a crisis screening evaluation. The hospital's inpatient programs continue to serve individuals on a case-by-case basis who present with a secondary substance use disorder (SUD) diagnosis requiring medically managed detoxification from alcohol, prescription drugs, and other potentially dangerous or addictive substances.