Prescription Opioid Abuse and Addiction

Prescription opioid abuse and addiction can develop without you even knowing it, whether you’re taking them as a treatment or using for recreational purposes. Many commonly abused drugs, such as meth and cocaine have made their way through underground channels while the abuse of prescription opioids has grown in plain sight with the support of the medical and insurance professions. Today, opioid abuse and addiction continue to destroy lives, families, and communities. The good news is opioid addiction recovery is possible.

Prescription Opioids – Not as Safe as You Might Think

Unlike other forms of drug abuse, prescription opioid abuse, and addiction can happen by accident. While no one starts abusing drugs with the intent of becoming addicted, many people start taking prescription drugs on advice from their doctors. Prescription opioids make for highly effective treatments for conditions involving pain, such as injuries caused by accidents and chronic pain issues.

Unfortunately, opioids, in any form, carry high risks for abuse and addiction no matter how they’re obtained. The same things that make heroin highly addictive also apply for prescription opioids. This means someone who’s been prescribed a painkiller drug to relieve post-surgery pain or chronic back pain faces the same risks as someone who starts using on a recreational basis.

How Prescription Opioid Abuse Became an Epidemic

The opioid epidemic within the United States began in the mid-1990s. Before this time, medical professionals used opioids sparingly due to concerns over their’ addictive potential. In the mid-1990s, Purdue Pharma, a major pharmaceutical company, began marketing OxyContin, a sustained-release pain medication. The company claimed that, unlike other opioid-type drugs, OxyContin was less addictive.

From that point, the use of prescription opioids as a treatment for pain-related conditions gradually increased, which set the stage for prescription opioid abuse and addiction rates to soar over the coming decades. Another factor that played into the surge was widespread doctor reimbursements from drug companies for recommending or “pushing” the drug. These conditions coupled with a willingness by insurance companies to cover the least expensive treatment for pain management (prescription opioids) created a perfect storm that launched the opioid epidemic we see today.

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How Opioid Abuse Leads to Addiction

When used as prescribed, opioids pose minimal risk for abuse or addiction. Unfortunately, the way these drugs interact with the brain’s chemical makeup makes it difficult to follow prescription guidelines if you’re not careful. Opioids integrate seamlessly within the brain’s chemical system, which accounts for their high abuse potential.

The body manufactures its own opioids through opioid receptors located within the brain and throughout the central nervous system. Opioid receptors secrete chemicals, such as dopamine and serotonin, which act as chemical messengers inside a network of brain circuits that regulate several critical processes. These receptors only secrete chemicals as-needed based on the body’s needs or circumstances at any given moment.

What makes prescription opioids so dangerous is their ability to stimulate chemical secretions in the body on their own. Brain processes that rely on opioid receptor functions include:

  • Your perception of pain and pleasure
  • How your motivations and priorities are determined
  • Reasoning and decision-making
  • Your belief systems

The feelings of calm, euphoria, and well-being experienced when taking these drugs make it way too easy to exceed prescribed dosage levels let alone control your intake when using them for recreational purposes. From there, the effects of prescription opioid abuse start to commandeer the brain processes regulated by dopamine and serotonin. Before long, addiction takes root as prescription opioids skew your reasoning abilities, motivations, and priorities. In effect, getting and using the drug takes on top priority in your day-to-day life.

Opioid Overdose Risks

Prescription opioid abuse and addiction practices come with a risk of overdose that only increases the longer you continue to use. This growing risk of overdose stems from the body’s increasing tolerance for opioids, worsening withdrawal effects, and persistent addiction cravings. More often than not, overdose results when the body’s respiratory system shuts down in response to the slowing effects of these drugs. Opioids remain the main drivers of drug overdose deaths, accounting for 46,802 fatalities in 2018, alone.

The Need for Treatment Help

Once opioid use starts to spin out of control, the risk of developing addiction skyrockets. If you’re struggling with opioid abuse and need help, the time to act is now. Opioid rehab centers provide the level of support and medical care needed to help you take back control of your life from addiction. When left untreated, prescription opioid abuse and addiction will only get worse and sap your ability to stop it along the way.


  • – Nature Research, “Tracing the US Opioid Crisis to Its Roots”
  • – U. S. Natural Library of Medicine, “Opioid Addiction”
  • – Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, “Drug Overdose Deaths”
  • – Sunshine Behavioral Health, “Opioid Rehab Centers”

Medical disclaimer:

Sunshine Behavioral Health strives to help people who are facing substance abuse, addiction, mental health disorders, or a combination of these conditions. It does this by providing compassionate care and evidence-based content that addresses health, treatment, and recovery.

Licensed medical professionals review material we publish on our site. The material is not a substitute for qualified medical diagnoses, treatment, or advice. It should not be used to replace the suggestions of your personal physician or other health care professionals.

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