(512) 605-2955 Drug and Alcohol Detox Rehab Centers in Austin and Houston, TX

Why Are Opioids Addictive?

person taking opioids

Why are opioids addictive?
Opioids are highly addictive because they flood the brain with endorphins and dopamine, which produce feelings of pleasure, satisfaction, and euphoria. The “high” is so powerful and unlike any natural rush of endorphins and dopamine that the only way a person can experience those feelings again is by using opioids. There are several other genetic, environmental, and lifestyle factors that all contribute to the likelihood of developing an opioid addiction.

What are Opioids?

Opioids are a class of drugs that include synthetic opioids, prescription painkillers, and heroin.1 These drugs are all chemically related and interact with the same opioid receptors in the brain and body. Their effects result in feelings of euphoria, which encourages opioid abuse, dependence, and addiction.

The terms “opiates” and “opioids” are often used interchangeably, but there is a difference between the two. An opiate is a drug that is naturally derived from the opiate poppy plant and an opioid is a broader term that refers to natural or synthetic substances that bind to the body’s opioid receptors.

Opioids are classified as controlled substances by the DEA and their current scheduling is as follows:

Opioid Drug Scheduling
Schedule IHeroin
Schedule IIDemerol (meperidine)

Dilaudid (hydromorphone)

Dolophine (methadone)

Duragesic or Sublimaze (fentanyl)




Percocet (oxycodone)


Other hydrocodone medications

Schedule IIIBuprenex




Other buprenorphine products

Schedule IVTramadol
Schedule VSome codeine medications (e.g., Robitussin AC)

Source: https://www.deadiversion.usdoj.gov/schedules/orangebook/c_cs_alpha.pdf

Side Effects of Opioid Use

When they are used responsibly as prescribed by a doctor, prescription opioid drugs provide effective relief from moderate to severe pain. However, when opioid drugs are abused, they can cause the following short-term side effects:

  • Depressed breathing
  • Drowsiness
  • Constipation
  • Nausea
  • Unconsciousness
  • Coma2

 Long-term opioid abuse may also result in:

  • Tolerance
  • Physical dependence
  • Opioid withdrawal
  • Addiction2

Causes of Opioid Addiction

If a person is addicted to opioids, he or she may feel like they are impossible to live without. An addicted person may also experience irresistible cravings for opioids and succumb to uncontrollable, compulsive opioid use. There is no single cause of opioid addiction, rather, the factors that contribute to opioid addiction often include a person’s genetics, environment, and lifestyle factors.

Researchers believe that many of the genes involved in the body’s reward and pleasure center also play a role in addictive behaviors and opioid addiction. According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, the genes that are responsible for making opioid receptors may vary, which lead to differences in the opioid receptors’ structure and function. In turn, this also influences how the body responds to opioid drugs.3

There are also several environmental and lifestyle factors that may cause opioid addiction. They include:

  • A history of substance abuse
  • Depression
  • Psychiatric disorders
  • Childhood abuse/neglect
  • Personality traits like impulsivity and sensation-seeking
  • Poverty
  • Associating with people who abuse opioids

Generally, a combination of all the factors listed above determines a person’s likelihood of developing an opioid addiction.

Opioid Addiction Risk Factors

Any opioid use, even short-term, can lead to tolerance, dependence, addiction, and overdose. Therefore, anyone who takes opioid drugs is at risk of becoming addicted to them. Although it is impossible to determine who will become addicted and who will not, here are some of the most common risk factors for opioid addiction:

  • Personal or family history of substance abuse
  • History of criminal activity and/or legal problems
  • History of severe depression and/or anxiety
  • Previous drug or alcohol rehabilitation
  • Association with drug users or high-risk environments
  • Mental disorders/psychiatric problems
  • Young age
  • Thrill-seeking behaviors
  • Heavy tobacco use
  • Poverty/unemployment
  • Stressful life circumstances4

Opioid Addiction Statistics

Opioid addiction is common in America and it doesn’t discriminate based on gender, social class, profession, race, age, or any other social standing or class. Here are some recent opioid addiction statistics that illustrate the growing opioid abuse problem in the U.S.

  • More than 130 people die every day from opioid-related drug overdoses.5
  • The estimated total economic burden of prescription opioid abuse in the U.S. is $78.5 billion a year.5
  • 47,600 people died from opioid overdoses in 2017.6
  • 886,000 people used heroin in 2017.6
  • 81,000 people used heroin for the first time in 2017.6
  • 15,482 deaths were attributed to heroin overdoses in 2017.6
  • 11.4 million people misused prescription opioids in 2017.6
  • 2 million people misused prescription opioids for the first time in 2017.6
  • 2.1 million people had an opioid use disorder in 2017.6
  • 28,466 deaths were caused by synthetic opioid overdoses other than methadone in 2017.6
  • An estimated 23 percent of people who use heroin will develop opioid addiction.7
  • In 2017, the number of overdose deaths involving opioids was 6 times higher than in 1999.8

Opioid Addiction: Treatment and Prevention

Opioid addiction can’t always be prevented, but there are several measures that individuals can take to protect themselves from the risks of prescription drug abuse and opioid addiction. A few strategies include:

  • Closely following the directions or instructions provided by the pharmacist when taking prescription opioid drugs.
  • Being aware of potentially dangerous drug and alcohol combinations and interactions.
  • Talking to a doctor before changing prescription doses.
  • Not taking anyone else’s prescription opioids or sharing yours.
  • Storing prescription opioid drugs safely.9

If you or a loved one is addicted to opioid drugs, there is a way out and you can recover with the right support. Evidence-based treatment methods in detox, rehab, and aftercare can help ensure a full recovery from addiction while also initiating positive behavioral changes, attitudes, and healthy social interactions with sober peers.

Admitting you’re addicted and you need help is difficult, but it’s the first step to reclaiming your life. Call (512) 605-2955 to speak with a Nova admissions representative today to find out how we can help you take hold of a fresh start and begin your new life in recovery.



  1. https://www.drugabuse.gov/drugs-abuse/opioids
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18443635
  3. https://ghr.nlm.nih.gov/condition/opioid-addiction
  4. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/prescription-drug-abuse/in-depth/how-opioid-addiction-occurs/art-20360372
  5. https://www.drugabuse.gov/drugs-abuse/opioids/opioid-overdose-crisis
  6. https://www.hhs.gov/opioids/about-the-epidemic/index.html
  7. https://www.asam.org/docs/default-source/advocacy/opioid-addiction-disease-facts-figures.pdf
  8. https://www.cdc.gov/drugoverdose/epidemic/index.html
  9. https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/misuse-prescription-drugs/how-can-prescription-drug-misuse-be-prevented

Sober at 20

stories addiction recovery


Gabe grew up in McKinney, Texas and was raised in a very conservative home. He was homeschooled up until high school and always felt like he was at odds with the beliefs and ideas he was taught at home. He and his mother also had a strained relationship and he sensed a power struggle among the adults in his family. He tried to deal with the tension at home but began to rebel as a result.

Gabe started experimenting with alcohol at a young age, frequently stealing his parent’s liquor and wine at home. He felt like nothing he did would ever be good enough for his mom, so instead, he sought the approval of his peers by abusing drugs and alcohol.

GabeBy the time Gabe was 16, he had already been to detox and rehab, but he wasn’t ready to hear that he was an addict. His parents tried to protect him by enrolling him in a sober school where he would be closely monitored and drug tested, but he still managed to manipulate the system.

As a junior in high school, Gabe had spent some time in a juvenile detention center and was cheating his way through life. He would manipulate, lie, steal, and do whatever it took to continue using drugs and alcohol. As his substance abuse intensified, his relationship with his mom and other family members continued to deteriorate.

Shortly after his experience in juvie, Gabe hit a new low and began injecting drugs. He only lasted a few days before he found himself broke and homeless. Once again, he enrolled in treatment, but not for the right reasons.

“I told myself, ‘Hey, maybe if I just call my mom and go to one of those 30-day treatment centers, she’ll let me back in the house,’” he says.

After completing treatment for the second time, Gabe enrolled in a sober living program at Eudaimonia Recovery Homes. It was his first time living on his own and he still wasn’t ready to face the reality of his addiction.

“I was into all sorts of trouble,” he says. “I started finding little things to do to get around the drug testing, like kratom and kava. I barely made it two months there before I got an apartment with two friends. I made it three months there, but every single day I used heroin and cocaine.”

As Gabe’s addiction continued to spiral out of control, the tattered remains of his relationship with his parents were destroyed and any semblance of recovery in his life was shattered. He overdrew his bank account, got arrested, stole things, and overall, his personal life was in complete disarray.

He was in pain and agony every single day, but he wanted to change. He enrolled in treatment for the third time and although it was a nice hiatus from the chaos, he didn’t receive the tools he needed to succeed in recovery. He got sober again and enlisted in the army, with the hopes that it would help him finally turn things around.

While in the army, Gabe fell heavily into meth abuse and ended up spending three months in a Georgia prison cell. Despite his best intentions, his addiction had caught up with him again and he was back to using full-time.

“Before I failed a drug test and got kicked out of the army, I had stopped using everything over Christmas break,” he says. “I was about to get on a bus. Everything was loaded up and ready to go but I had some stuff on me. I knew if I used it, it would be the end of my military career. It was almost like a third-person experience. It just happened. Spiritually and emotionally, it was the worst thing because I realized I couldn’t stop.”

Soon after, Gabe was kicked out of the army. He made it four days at home before he overdosed and was back in the hospital. After nearly a dozen overdose-related trips to the hospital, he finally came to the realization that if he didn’t change, he was going to die.

Like all the times before, Gabe enrolled in treatment. He completed detox at Briarwood Detox Center and a 90-day rehab program at Nova Recovery Center. However, this time was different. He desperately wanted to change and he was done manipulating his way through life. This time he worked the 12-steps with genuine intention and accepted the advice and instruction of others. Looking back, he says he is sure he would be dead right now if he hadn’t made a change.

At 20 years young, Gabe is finally sober and still working the 12 steps. He has a solid job, enjoys playing the guitar in his free time, and is busy sponsoring other men in recovery.

“I’ve been sober for 11 months now,” he says. “I have a solid routine and everything in my life is very disciplined, consistent, and safe. I am a lot more responsible all the way around, which is a nice change of pace.”


If you’re struggling like Gabe was, it’s not too late to get help. Nova Recovery Center provides comprehensive long-term drug rehab to treat the whole person, not just the symptoms of addiction. Call (512) 605-2955 today to speak with a Nova admissions representative and begin your own journey to recovery.

Call Now Button