How Addiction Happens

1- Initial Drug Use
All prescription opioids and heroin work the same way in the body and can have long-term effects on the structure and function of the brain. Opioid receptors found throughout the body, including in the brain, respond to natural chemicals called neurotransmitters (like endorphins) produced in the body that cause feelings of happiness, well-being, and relief from pain. Opioid drugs bind to these same receptors, enhancing these feelings to produce a “high”.

2- Building Up a Tolerance
Over the course of opioid abuse, the body decreases production of neurotransmitters like endorphins as well as the receptors that allow us to experience these positive feelings naturally. The longer the opioid abuse continues, the higher the amount of an opioid needed to maintain these feelings of well-being, pain relief, and even “normalcy” will become. This effect is called tolerance. Unfortunately, the body builds up a tolerance to the positive effects of opioids faster than a tolerance to the negative effects, often leading to overdose and death if left untreated.

3- Withdrawal & Addiction
If you find yourself abusing opioids, it can be difficult to stop using the drugs once uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms begin. This strong physical response to a lack of opioids in the body is what creates a dependence on the drug and becomes the driving force of the addiction. Because of the way that drug addiction functions, it has been recognized as a medical disease by the American Medical Association and often requires comprehensive treatment for those addicted to achieve full recovery. Struggling with an addiction to opioids is not indicative of a moral failing or poor judgment, it is a serious medical condition requiring treatment, like diabetes. Methadone allows addicted persons to function normally in the same way that insulin works for those with diabetes.

Opioid Use Disorder (OUD)

In order to be eligible for medication-assisted treatment, potential clients must meet the criteria for Opioid Use Disorder as defined by the American Psychiatric Association. The severity of the addiction is determined by the number of symptoms experienced by those addicted with 2-3 symptoms indicating mild addiction, 4-5 in moderate addiction, and 6 or more symptoms indicating severe addiction.

  • Persistent desire or unsuccessful efforts to cut down or control opioid use

  • Opioids are often taken in larger amounts or over a longer period of time than intended

  • A great deal of time is spent in activities necessary to obtain the opioid, use the opioid, or recover from its effects

  • Craving, or a strong desire, to use opioids

  • Recurrent opioid use resulting in failure to fulfill major role obligations at work, school, or home

  • Continued opioid use, despite having persistent or recurrent social or interpersonal problems caused or worsened by the effects of opioids

  • Recurrent opioid use in situations in which it is physically dangerous

  • Important social, occupational, or recreational activities are given up or reduced because of opioid use

  • Continued use, despite knowledge of having a persistent or recurrent physical or psychological problem that is likely to have been caused or made worse by opioids


When a person becomes addicted to opioids, an absence of the drug will result in a range of uncomfortable physical, mental, and emotional symptoms. This effect is known as withdrawal and can begin within 12 hours of the last drug use. The first, or acute, phase includes the most extreme symptoms and can last up to 1-4 weeks. The second phase includes mostly emotional symptoms and can last for 2 years. Withdrawal from opioids can be difficult to handle alone, but it is not generally dangerous like withdrawal from some other drugs (excepting cases of pregnancy where the fetus is at risk during withdrawal.)

  • Abdominal Cramping

  • Nausea

  • Vomiting

  • Diarrhea

  • Muscle Aches & Pains

  • Hot & Cold Flashes

  • Tremors

  • Sweating

  • Goose Bumps

  • Increased Heart Rate

  • Runny Nose

  • Teary Eyes

  • Low Energy

  • Yawning

  • Drug Cravings

  • Anxiety

  • Depression

  • Irritability

  • Agitation

  • Insomnia

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