Opiate Drugs and Addiction

Opiate Drugs and Addiction – Opiates are intoxicating, potentially addictive substances that occur naturally and have painkilling and depressant properties. All opiates are classified as controlled substances in the United States.

Opiates Defined

Opiates are compounds procured from the opium poppy, Papaver somniferum. They have potent medicinal properties and are used for pain relief, cough suppression, antidiarrheals, and sedation. The three main alkaloids derived from opium include the following:


Morphine is the most abundant compound in opium and has also been the most commonly used for medical purposes. Morphine is used primarily to manage pain and has also been essential for deriving many semisynthetic medications, such as hydromorphone.

Heroin is also derived from morphine and is chemically similar. Heroin is technically classified as a semi-synthetic opiate, as there are synthetic processes involved in producing the heroin that is sold on the streets.


Codeine is an alkaloid found in lesser concentrations than morphine, but it is also an important compound used to derive other semi-synthetic pharmaceuticals. In addition to analgesia, codeine is used as a prescription cough suppressant.


Thebaine is considered to be the most toxic of the opium compounds, but it is used to produce important semi-synthetic medications, such as oxycodone and hydrocodone.

Opioids Defined

The term “opioid” refers to any compound, natural or synthetic, that binds to opioid receptors in the brain and body. These receptors are proteins in the brain, spinal cord, and digestive tract that interact with compounds produced naturally in the body (endogenous opioids). Opioids not created in the body that may be consumed, injected, snorted, or inhaled act on the same receptors and induce similar effects, albeit much more intense.

What Are Semi-Synthetic and Synthetic Opioids?

As noted, in addition to natural opiates, there are semi-synthetic and synthetic opioids. If a substance is entirely synthetic, it is technically an opioid and not an opiate.

Semi-synthetic opioids are partially derived from opium alkaloids. Synthetic opioids, though, are completely human-made. Still, these drugs all act on the brain and body in the same way as opiates, and also all have a high potential for physical dependence and addiction.

Semi-synthetic opioids include the following:

  • Hydrocodone
  • Oxycodone
  • Hydromorphone
  • Oxymorphone
  • Buprenorphine

Fully synthetic opioids include tramadol, fentanyl, and methadone.

It’s important to point out that there is no distinction in the many of risks associated with these drugs. Morphine, heroin, and synthesized opioids all pose similar risks for users. The most significant risks involve extremely potent opioids such as fentanyl, which even in tiny amounts can result in rapid, life-threatening overdose.

Addiction to Opiate Drugs

Risks of using opiates or opioids include physical dependence and addiction due to the way in which they interact with opioid receptors in the central nervous system. All forms of opioids and opiates, whether natural or synthetic, attach to opioid receptors, induce pain relief and sedation, and create a sense of intense well-being or euphoria.

Opiate Drugs and Addiction
A mysterious hand holding a syringe. Holding the syringe. selected focus.

Effects of Opioid Abuse and Addiction

Common side effects of opioid use include the following:

  • Fatigue
  • Constipation
  • Breathlessness
  • A sense of elation
  • Bronchospasms
  • Chemical dependence
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Confusion
  • Slurred speech
  • Chest pain
  • Depressed respiration
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Coma
  • Death

Dependence occurs as the body becomes accustomed to the presence of certain substances, and can no longer function normally without them. As a result, people who could previously control their use begin to engage in compulsive drug-seeking behavior in an attempt to forestall highly unpleasant withdrawal symptoms that manifest as a result of drug discontinuation.

Withdrawal Symptoms

Some of the common withdrawal symptoms associated with discontinuing the use of opioids include the following:

  • Intense cravings
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Stomach pain
  • Cold sweats and chills
  • Diarrhea
  • Anxiety and agitation
  • Muscle tension
  • Shaking or quivering
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Enlarged pupils
  • Body aches and pains


The following are signs of an opioid overdose and should be considered a medical emergency. If someone you know is experiencing these signs/symptoms, call 911 immediately.

  • Awake, but unable to communicate
  • Very slow, shallow, labored, or stopped breathing
  • Pulse (heartbeat) is slow, erratic, or not there at all
  • Cyanosis (bluish skin tone, especially lips or fingernails in lighter skinned people, grayish or ashen skin tone in darker skinned people)
  • Choking sounds or gurgling noise (sometimes referred to as the “death rattle”)
  • Vomiting
  • Body is very limp
  • Face is very pale or clammy
  • Unresponsiveness to outside stimulus
  • Loss of consciousness or coma

Treatment for Addiction to Opiate Drugs

Opioid addiction is a very serious disease, and those suffering are urged to seek professional help as soon as possible. Recovery By The Sea specializes in the treatment of addictions related to opiate drugs and other substances using a comprehensive approach to mental and physical wellness.

Our evidence-based services include those vital to the recovery process, such as behavioral therapy, individual, family, and group counseling, support groups, aftercare planning, and more.

If you or someone you love is struggling with an addiction to opiate drugs, please contact us today to discuss treatment options. Discover how we help people free themselves from the chains of addiction and live long, healthy, and satisfying lives!

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